Blackmail is My Life
Perhaps the best aspect of the DVD revolution is how it's opened the doors to more obscure titles from foreign shores. Although Americans have had access to masterpieces by directors like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, it wasn't until recently that works by directors like Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Yasuzo Masumura (Blind Beast), and Kinji Fukasaku became available at all to domestic audiences. It'd be as if Japan got John Ford and Howard Hawks, but only a movie or two by people like Sam Fuller or Don Siegel. Though probably best known stateside for his insane drag-queen-starring 1968 film Black Lizard and his contributions to 1970's Tora Tora Tora, Kinji Fukasaku made over 60 feature films, and with a recent American retrospective and the controversy engendered by his 2000 film Battle Royale, he's gained newfound prominence. Blackmail is my Life (1968) is a solid minor entry in Fukasaku's canon that shows why it's nice to find such hidden treasures. Hiroki Matsukata stars as Muraki, an ex-janitor who teams with three other friends ex-yakuza Seki (Hideo Murota), ex-boxer Zero (Akira Jo), and female Otoki (Tomomi Sato) in blackmailing criminals. At first they set their sights low, but when a father of one of the gang members dies, they go after the drug dealers who killed him. This leads them to getting involved with what looks to be their last big score, which becomes impossibly more complicated and dangerous the more they chase it. Like any genre picture, Blackmail ends on the fatalistic note one expects from a classic crime-noir, but it's not so much from the story as much as how it's told. Like many of Japanese directors working at the time, there's a sense of experimentation and a color schema that gives the film a bouncy pop-art/new-wave feel, and very unlike the staid rhythms of classic Japanese cinema. Well crafted, Fukusaku throws in enough twists and understands pacing so well that for what could have been a routine genre picture, it has a life of its own. It's hard to know where the movie rests in his body of work (simply because so few of his titles are available in America), but Blackmail is My Life shows that Fukasaku knew how to make a movie, and how to make it entertaining. Home Vision Entertainment presents the title in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and monaural audio. For an older title, it looks spectacular. Extras consist of liner notes by Tokyo Scope author Patrick Macias, a Fukasaku filmography, and an 18-minute interview with Fukasaku conducted shortly before his death. Keep-case.