Monday, 16 August 2021

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo

Wuthering Heist

Stray Cat Rock -
Wild Jumbo
aka Nora-neko rokku -
Wairudo janbo

Japan 1970
Directed by Toshiya Fujita
Nikkatsu/Arrow Blu Ray Zone B
As part of Arrow’s Stray Cat Rock Dual Edition Set

Warning: Full on spoilerage.

First of all... I have to say I have no idea what the phrase Wild Jumbo means. I have tried to find out if it’s anything which has any kind of significance in Japanese and, well, I’ve come back empty handed. However, I will assure you that no elephants were harmed in the making of this movie. In fact, there aren’t even any elephants anywhere in the movie so... yeah... no idea.

Stray Cat Rock - Wild Jumbo is the second of the five, very loosely thematically linked Stray Cat Rock films that Nikkatsu churned out at great speed to have four releases in 1970 and the fifth released in 1971. Indeed, I read that the Alley Cats (or Stray Cats cast) were making the third movie in the series, Sex Hunter, simultaneous to this one and that the Alley Cats were being driven between sets. However, I’m not so sure of the source on that one because, in terms of the two female cast members, this film only has Meiko Kaji in common so... yeah, maybe and maybe not. Don’t know.

The five films all featured rising superstar Kaji but always playing a different character in a different set up. Here, she is still part of a ‘gang’, “The Pelican Club”, but she’s the only female member, C-Ko... sharing the screen with the other members played by Takeo Chii, (Takeo) Tatsuya Fuji (Ganishin), Yûsuke Natsu (Jirô) and Sôichirô Maeno (Debo)... all playing stereotypical characters associated with leadership, strength, stupidity etc. When Takeo, the leader, falls for a ‘girl with a mission’, the playful group get involved in a daring heist to rob a major religious group of 30 million yen for the second half of the movie. The girl with a mission is striking actress Bunjaku Han, playing a character called Asako here.

Now, it has to be said, this film isn’t a patch on the last one. it doesn’t have many of the stylistic flashes and pacing of the previous director’s movie in the run and even the attitude of the main characters, who are all pretty much a lovable bunch, adds to the tone of the film being a little ‘old fashioned’ rather than something which is capturing the edginess of the first movie. Indeed, while the inevitable ‘rival gang’ does indeed inflict some damage to the characters, it’s not as violent and full on as the gang warfare in the other pictures (at least not the ones I’ve seen and nor does it compare to the delinquent girl gang movies I’ve seen put out by other studios).

It does have a few brief moments of stylistic bravado though. For example, the moment in the title sequence, superimposed over a montage of four of the gang having a playful time by a river, has some nice shots cut out of circles of just their feet as they walk past some tubes (presumably that’s what that sequence of shots is supposed to represent). This sequence also features a foreshadowing moment when Ganishin pushes Jirô into a deep drop into water. As Jirô’s body falls, the film does a deliberate stutter, freezing the frame just briefly, twice, before he hits the water and the title card comes up. It means nothing at this point but, right near the end of the movie, when Jirô is shot dead by the police and he takes a tumble off the side of a bridge into water, the director similarly stutters his downward descent with the same technique. Ganishin falls to the floor with a similar stutter too when he’s taken out by a police sniper a little later on.

Other stylistic flourishes such as static shot montages showing American tourists snapping pictures of their holiday and sped up footage of the gang fixing a burst tyre, seem a little lame and out of keeping with the frenetic, kinetic, high speed pace of Stray Cat Rock - Delinquent Girl Boss (reviewed here). One moment, where a rival gang are introduced with comic book bubbles instead of sounds almost won me over but... no, it was a nice idea but it didn’t quite make it.

That being said, it’s not a bad film... I had a good time with it but, its not great to compare this one to the first entry in the series, I think. There are nice moments like Charles Bronson’s face advertising Mandom Cologne on a poster used as a visual metaphor for Ganishin’s personality and appearance, at one point. There’s an interesting diversion where Debo is digging up holes around a school at midnight over a series of nights which has a nice pay off... kinda tying into the fatal craziness of the end of the picture. There’s even a cameo appearance of the night club footage of Akiko Wada singing from the first film tracked in (I think) as a cross cut audio commentary on the state of Takeo’s mind at one point... although it’s a bit bizarre to have this character just suddenly turn up as a non-sequiter like this. Actually, I can’t find confirmation anywhere on the internet but I’m pretty sure she has a very small cameo at the start of the movie too... as the ‘cop’ who breaks up the other gang from beating up Takeo at the start. If anyone could confirm it in the comments section below, that would be nice.

And other than that... yeah, Stray Cat Rock - Wild Jumbo is a fine film and entertaining enough but it’s not compulsive like the first one. I’d watch it again though... it just feels like a strange fit and change of pace for the series. I don’t remember too much about Stray Cat Rock - Sex Hunter (even though I’ve seen it at least twice, once at the cinema) but it has the same director as the first movie and I’ll be rewatching that one next. Review coming soon to this very blog.

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