Female Resistance and a One-Armed Swordsman: Explore Cult Japanese Cinema from the 1970s at HOME this Month

The First Street film, theatre and arts destination will screen seven films that pushed the boundaries of cinema.

By Emma Davidson | September 1st '22

After an incredibly successful celebration of 1970’s Japanese Cinema back in 2021, HOME will offer another expanded season of films as part of ‘Cinema on the Edge: Japanese Films in the 1970s’ commencing this Saturday. 

Japanese cinema in the 1970s offered daring and dangerous filmmakers exciting opportunities to push the boundaries of cinematic language and challenge outdated notions of good taste.

The result was some of the most delirious and in-your-face films ever showcased. These are films where the Japanese new wave, underground and exploitation cinemas rubbed shoulders and cross-pollinated, ensuring that when audiences entered the cinema, they were never sure what they might get.

Making up the line-up of films this year are seven cult classics that defined a generation. First up, Boxer is a tale of a successful fighter who suffers an existential crisis in the ring and suddenly refuses to fight. Directed by Shûji Terayama – a poet, dramatist, filmmaker and leading artistic figure in Japan during the 1970s – he brings all his knowledge of the sport to bear on this striking film.

Next up, Ecstasy of Angels draws upon actual events, such as the raid on the Asaka military base by the Red Army Faction in 1971, to portray  a militant revolutionary group that begins to disintegrate as its members become increasingly paranoid and disillusioned.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion is a heroic tale of female resistance is a super male-dominated world. Starring Meiko Kaji, the four-film Female Prisoner Scorpion series from film studio Toei charts the adventures of Nami Matsushima: a woman who assumes the mantle of “Scorpion,” becoming an avatar of vengeance.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, the first film in the series, introduces Nami – a gullible young woman unjustly imprisoned, who must find a way to escape in order to exact revenge upon the man who betrayed her.

Meiko Kaji was perhaps the most iconic female star of the early 1970s Japanese exploitation era, and Scorpion is arguably one of her defining roles.

Also making the cinematic line-up is Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman. While travelling the countryside, blind Japanese warrior Zatoichi comes across Wang Kang, a Chinese swordsman protecting a brutally orphaned young child. Despite the language barrier, the men forge a friendship, until nefarious enemies plant seeds of distrust to pit the two master martial artists against each other.

Zatoichi, a legendary swordsman figure within Japanese cinema, continued his run of popular film appearances into the 1970s. Here, he encounters another favourite of martial arts filmmaking, this time from Hong Kong cinema – the one-armed swordsman, played by kung fu idol Jimmy Wang.

Jon Wroot will then present a talk charting the history and influence of the Japanese film and television franchise about Zatoichi the blind swordsman. Comprising 29 films and 100 TV episodes (usually starring the famous Shintaro Katsu), they all follow the adventures of a blind masseur in mediaeval Japan, who wanders from village to village and often has to defend himself with his deadly sword skills.

Gushing Prayer will also screen this month, as it follows high-school students Yasuko, Yôichi, Kôichi and Bill who want to escape from their overwhelming sense of alienation from the world around them. By indulging in group sex to explore whether they can forge their own path liberated from a corrupt adult society, Yasuko sets out an odyssey of self-exploration where sex is reduced to a mere economic transaction.

A cryptic and formally radical work, Gushing Prayer blends elements of the underground political cinema and the popular sex films emerging in Japan in the early 1970s. Director Masao Adachi would later devote himself to direct political action and move away from filmmaking.

The final two films are In the Realm of the Senses and Street Mobster. In the Realm of the Senses is still, to this day, one of the most controversial films ever made, brilliantly – and graphically – merging politics and desire.

Street Mobster follows an individualistic yakuza, after years in prison, as he returns to his old stomping ground, but his insanely uncompromising stance sets him on a collision course with everything and everyone. 

The director of BATTLE ROYALE pushes cinematic style to breaking point in a frenzy of breathless, hyper-stylish action. This marked the beginning of a new breed of yakuza movies that was to later influence the likes of John Woo and Takashi Miike.

Kicking off this Saturday with Gushing Prayer, the programme then spans across the whole of September. You can view the entire timetable and book tickets now via the link below. 

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