Director: Buichi Saito
Cast: Akira Kobayashi, Ruriko Asaoka, Sanae Nakahara, Arihiro Fujimura, Hiroshi Kondo, Shoichi Ozawa, Toranosuke Ogawa, Shin Morikawa, Hisao Toake, Masao Mishima, Kyosuke Aihara, Yoko Kosono, Fudeko Tanaka
Running Time: 79 min.
By Kyle Warner
I don’t know about you, but when I think about Nikkatsu, I immediately think of their action movies (if your first thought is of Nikkatsu’s Roman Pornos, then you and I have very different tastes in movies, my pervy friend). Nikkatsu had a lineup of their top stars which they referred to as their ‘Diamond Guys,’ and if I were to try to name some of the films the Diamond Guys starred in, chances are they’d be some of the studio’s best action movies. Naturally, the action films only tell part of the story about what Nikkatsu and their Diamond Guys were up to during the “Golden Age” of Japanese cinema, and this is immediately evident when you put Arrow Video’s Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 2 Blu-ray into your player. Whereas Vol. 1 was a collection of three crime stories (highlighted by Seijun Suzuki’s Voice Without a Shadow), Vol. 2 instantly sets a much lighter tone. In this collection of three films (Tokyo Mighty Guy, Danger Pays, Murder Unincorporated), we get to see Nikkatsu’s tough guys in some of their earlier, more comedic roles.
Tokyo Mighty Guy announces its offbeat personality right off the bat with a colorful credit sequence. During the sequence, star Akira Kobayashi (Retaliation) sings while walking a hand-made Parisian set that’s been built out of cardboard. It’s purposefully cartoonish, looking like the set of a kid’s show, and sets the tone for what’s soon to come. The lyrics of Kobayashi’s song also act as an intro to the character: he just got back from Paris, he’s lacking in manners, but he’s basically good natured.
Akira Kobayashi plays Jiro Shimizu, a role that he would return to in future sequels. The “Mighty Guy” persona fit Kobayashi well, and the nickname followed the star for a while. As Jiro, Kobayashi got into comic mischief, beat up bad guys, romanced pretty ladies, and sang songs whenever the urge hit him (which is to say, pretty often). It’s a very similar role to the one he played in The Rambling Guitarist, made the previous year. I compared The Rambling Guitarist to an Elvis Presley picture and the same probably fits Tokyo Mighty Guy as well. In addition to making a mainstream movie, the studio also gave their star a chance to show off his singing abilities, which of course resulted in record sales and crossover appeal to music fans.
Fresh off the boat from Paris, Jiro is present when Japan’s former Prime Minister (Toranosuke Ogawa) drives his car through the shop that Jiro’s family owns. The Prime Minister is a bully who refuses to apologize for anything, but Jiro’s not impressed by the old man’s high-class status and demands reparations. Impressed by Jiro’s spirit, the two become unlikely friends, and the ex-Prime Minister helps rebuild the family shop as a fancy French restaurant after learning of Jiro’s expertise in all things French. (Jiro doesn’t seem like much of an expert to me and he can barely speak French, but whatever.)
Jiro also deals with yakuza grudges, scheming businessmen, and the romantic entanglements of his friends. There is a lot crammed into Tokyo Mighty Guy’s 79 minute running time. Just the same, it’s not a film that’s driven by story. Tokyo Mighty Guy is a series of amusing scenes, some of them playing like skits in a variety show, tackling various plot points before everything comes crashing together in a finale featuring one of the most awkward wedding ceremonies ever.
I can’t say I laughed much while watching Tokyo Mighty Guy but it is rather amusing in its old-fashioned way. Akira Kobayashi and romantic lead Ruriko Asaoka (Incident at Blood Pass) are incredibly charming actors. Supporting actress Sanae Nakahara (The Rambling Guitarist) provides the movie with some of its quirkiest moments and character actor Toranosuke Ogawa (The Hidden Fortress) plays one of his career best roles as the grumpy former Prime Minister.
Tokyo Mighty Guy is innocent escapism. I enjoyed it without ever feeling any love for it. That being said, as a fan of classic Japanese cinema, I liked getting the chance to see something that had been unavailable in the West until now. The key talent involved with the film would go onto make better movies later in their careers. But as far as mainstream popcorn flicks go, this ain’t bad.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 6/10
About this release: Tokyo Mighty Guy is the first film on the Arrow Video Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 2 DVD/Blu-ray release. The other films are Danger Pays and Murder Unincorporated, both starring Jo Shishido (Branded to Kill). Special features include trailers for the three films, photo galleries, and Jasper Sharp shares some background on both Kobayashi and Shishido. I enjoyed Sharp’s brief talk about Akira Kobayashi, one of the Diamond Guys I know less about. He refers to Kobayashi as the Diamond Guy’s Dean Martin, which fits. Also included in the release is a booklet featuring new writing by Stuart Galbraith IV, Tom Mes, and Mark Schilling. Tokyo Mighty Guy looks pretty good on Blu-ray. It shares the same Blu-ray disc with the two other films. Though the picture occasionally looks a bit soft, overall it’s a nice looking release for a classic foreign film. And just so you know, this release is supposed to be region-free and is limited to 3,000 copies.