November 21, 2009

The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu and Raizo Ichikawa


Japan Society's Monthly Classics Film Series Delivers 9 Slices of Rare '60s Samurai Cool with a Duel Dose of Masculine Mystique

The Double-Edged Sword:
The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu and Raizo Ichikawa

Opening Screening: Samurai Vendetta on Friday, December 11, 2009, 7:30 PM

Introduced by curator Chris D. with reception and book signing


Japan Society's latest Monthly Classics film series The Double-Edged Sword: The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu & Raizo Ichikawa pays tribute to two Japanese screen legends in their most respected, representative and stylish chambara (sword fighting) films. Curated by film expert and author Chris D. (Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film), the series features 9 films slated to be screened monthly from December 2009 through May 2010. The opening night screening Samurai Vendetta takes place Friday, December 11 at 7:30 pm, and is followed by a reception and book signing. (Opening night tickets including reception are $15/$10 members, students & seniors; all subsequent screenings are $11/$7.)

Macho cool had two faces in Japanese cinema from the 1960s: Daiei Studios’ cult stars Shintaro Katsu (1931-1997) and Raizo Ichikawa (1931-1969). The actors dominated postwar genre films in Japan, projecting a disparate duality of masculine mystique. The earthy Katsu played the affable anti-idol rogue, unpredictable onscreen (and off), while ethereal, coolly enigmatic Ichikawa was considered the "James Dean of Japan." Beyond their differences, both stars instilled in their roles a poisonous poetry and existential angst that lifted their art into genre-transcending territory.

The Double-Edged Sword film series offers seminal works from each actor's arsenal chambara epics. Popular films such as Samurai Vendetta and three choice selections from the Zatoichi series are coupled with the surreal Destiny’s Son and art house film Scar Yosaburo. The series also presents Nemuri Kyoshiro's At Bay: The Sword of Seduction and Kenji Misumi's little known masterpiece The Devil’s Temple for the first time in 35 mm on the big screen with English subtitles.

With 2009 marking the 40th anniversary of Raizo Ichikawa’s death, The Double-Edged Sword series also anticipates the centennial of legendary director Akira Kurosawa in 2010. Samuel Jamier, newly appointed film programmer at Japan Society, notes, "While the Kurosawa/Mifune collaborations have long been consecrated as examples of ultimate samurai films, this retrospective series gives the occasion to unearth cinematic treasures that are too often overlooked, exposing an entire movement that took place parallel to Kurosawa and Cie."

Chambara designates a category of films that involve swordplay. Alternately romanized as chanbara, the label is an onomatopoeia, mimicking the "chan-chan, bara-bara" sound of clashing swords. The origin of chambara can be traced back to dramatized sword fights in kabuki dramas. Some of the earliest silent films in Japan were chambara with elaborate, balletic fight scenes. The genre reached maturity in the 1960s (many critics and fans describe that period as the golden age of chambara). The central figure in chambara films is the swordsman, who could be a samurai (often a ronin–a masterless samurai), ninja, or yakuza, always armed and dangerous. Chambara is part of the jidai-geki genre (period drama) and includes the matatabi sub-genre (wanderer or drifter that becomes a gambler).

“The chambara genre… was one of the central vehicles by which Japan would reexamine its culture and values in light of its new postwar, post-imperial role," notes Allen White, in his essay “A Man, a Blade, an Empty Road: Postwar Samurai Film to 1970” (GreenCine). "Chambara not only recycled and redefined Japanese history; it also used it as a thinly-coded metaphor for present-day struggles." Today, with anime reaching a peak of popularity, many of the most popular series among young Americans--from Samurai Champloo to Afro-Samurai—are based on and inspired by old chambara movies.




Friday, December 11, 2009, 7:30 pm

Samurai Vendetta (A.K.A A Chronicle of Pale Cherry Blossoms)

Opening screening with curator Chris D., reception and book signing


Friday, Jan. 22, 2010, 7:30 pm

Zatoichi, the Fugitive


Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, 7:30 pm

Destiny’s Son


Saturday, March 20, 2010

5:00 pm Zatoichi On the Road (A.K.A Zatoichi and the Scoundrels)

7:00 pm: Scar Yosaburo


Saturday, April 24, 2010

5:00 pm: New Tale of Zatoichi

7:00 pm: Nemuri Kyoshiro At Bay: The Sword of Seduction (A.K.A. Sleepy Eyes of Death 4)


Friday, May 14, 2010

5:00 pm: The Lone Stalker (A.K.A. Lone Wolf Isazo)

7:00 pm: The Devil’s Temple


Chris D. (aka Chris Desjardins) is the author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film (2005, I.B. Tauris), which features essays and interviews with Japanese genre film directors from the '60s to the '90s. He recently completed work on two forthcoming books: an exhaustive study of yakuza films titled Gun And Sword – An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980, and an anthology of prose and poetry entitled A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (New Texture Books, due Dec. 9). Chris D. worked as a film programmer at The American Cinematheque in Los Angeles 1999-2005 and was the main programmer of the Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre from 2006-09. Chris D. was also a singer/songwriter/producer for The Flesh Eaters and Divine Horsemen between 1978 and 2003. As an actor, Chris D. has appeared in Border Radio (1987), No Way Out (1987), Tweeked (1999) and Double Deception (2001). I Pass For Human (2004) was his feature film debut behind the camera. Japan Society's presentation of The Double-Edged Sword is an updated edition of a series he presented in Los Angeles in 2002.


The Japan Society Film Program offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's Arts & Culture programs. The Film Program has included retrospectives of great directors, thematic series and many U.S. premieres. Some original film series curated by Japan Society have traveled to other U.S. venues in tours organized by the Film Program. Since 2007, the Program has presented the annual summer JAPAN CUTS Festival of New Japanese Film in collaboration with the New York Asian Film Festival. The Monthly Classics series are yearly events inviting guest curators to organize film series with once-a-month screenings.


Established in 1907, Japan Society has evolved into North America's major producer of high-quality content on Japan for an English-speaking audience. Presenting over 100 events annually through well established Corporate, Education, Film, Gallery, Language, Lectures, Performing Arts and Innovators Network programs, the Society is an internationally recognized nonprofit, nonpolitical organization that provides access to information on Japan, offers opportunities to experience Japanese culture, and fosters sustained and open dialogue on issues important to the U.S., Japan, and East Asia.


Tickets for regular screenings in The Doubled-Edged Sword series are $11/$7 members, students & seniors; the Dec. 11 opening night screening including reception is $15/$10.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 at 42nd Street-Grand Central Station or the E and V at Lexington Avenue and 53rd St.)




333 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017