Monday, February 19, 2024

Stray Cat Rock Collection: Limited Edition – Arrow Video (Blu-ray/ DVD Combo)

Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1970 (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal), Japan, 1971 (Stray Cat Rock: Beat ‘71)
Directors: Yasuharu Hasebe (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal), Toshiya Fujita (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, Stray Cat Rock: Beat ‘71)
Cast: Meiko Kaji, Akiko Wada, Bunjyaku Han, Tatyu Fuji, Tatsuya Fuji, Hideichi Nagahara, Ken Sanders, Soichiro Maeno, Hiroki Tamaki, Takeo Chii, Yusuke Natsu, Hajime Kaburagi, Jiro Okazaki, Rikiya Yasuoka, Yuki Arikawa, Kouji Wada, Yuka Kumari, Hanako Tokachi, Eiji Go, Ryuzo Nakanishi, Michi Aoyama, Fujio Tokita, Toshio Harad

Release Date: July 14dh, 2015
Approximate running times: 80 Minutes 39 Seconds (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss), 84 Minutes 26 Seconds (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo), 85 Minutes 8 Seconds (Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter), 82 Minutes 20 Seconds (Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal), 86 Minutes 55 Seconds (Stray Cat Rock: Beat ‘71)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (All Films)
Rating: NR
Sound: LPCM Mono Japanese (All Films)
Subtitles: English (All Films)
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: OOP

"The Stray Cat Rock series stars Meiko Kaji (Lady Snowblood, Blind Woman's Curse) who with these five films began her reign as the badass action queen of the era. In these five tales of rebellious youth she stars alongside the gorgeous Bunjaku Han (Love Letter) and Tatsuya Fuji (In the Realm of the Senses). In Delinquent Girl Boss, the girl gang go up against criminal organization the Seiyu Group, where following a fixed boxing match blood is shed and friendships are tested. In Wild Jumbo, Kaji and the gang get involved in a kidnapping and the robbery of a religious organization. In Sex Hunter Kaji's girl gang go up against The Eagles, a group led by Fuji where sex and violence erupt over the treatment of 'half-breeds'. In Machine Animal gang rivalry is once again the focus with two gangs pursuing some LSD pushers looking to move a big score. The series swansong, Beat'71, sees Kaji framed and sent to prison by her boyfriend's father and with the help of some hippies she strives to be re-united. Directed by genre veterans Yasuharu Hasebe (Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701's Grudge Song) and Toshiya Fujita (Lady Snowblood) the films feature a psychedelic mix of girl gangs, bikers, sex, drugs and rock and roll with plenty of ass-kicking to boot, all captured in a delirious mash up of pop aesthetics including split screens, freeze frames, injections of color, frenetic editing and dizzying angles, making these films a riotous joy from beginning to end." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 3.5/5 (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal, Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71)

Here’s the information provided about the transfer, "The Stray Cat Rock series was transferred from original preservation film elements by Nikkatsu Studios in Japan. All five films were delivered as restored files on master tapes and supplied to Arrow Films.

The films are presented in the original widescreen aspect ratios. Additionally, certain sequences in the films appear with blanking to alter ratios, this is for stylistic purposes and is true to the original theatrical presentation which we have retained for our release."

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter come on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 45.8 GB

Feature: 13.9 GB (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss), 14.9 GB (Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo), 15.6 GB (Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter) 

Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal and Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 come on a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 41.9 GB

Feature: 16.1 GB (Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal), 17.6 GB (Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71)

Though all of the transfers are in very good shape, they do have minor instances of print debris that crop up throughout. Flesh tones look healthy, colors look very good, and image clarity is generally strong. That said, in some of the darker scenes, image clarity is not as strong, and black levels at times are not as convincing as they should be. Also, compression looks very good.

Audio: 4/5 (Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal, Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71)

Each film comes with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Japanese with removable English subtitles. All of the audio tracks are in good shape; there are no issues with hiss or distortion. Dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced, and range-wise ambient sounds and the score are well-represented.

Extras:

Extras for this release are spread over two discs.

Extras on disc one include a theatrical trailer for Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (2 minutes 42 seconds – 1080 progressive widescreen, LPCM mono Japanese with removable English subtitles) and a theatrical trailer for Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (3 minutes 16 seconds, LPCM mono Japanese with removable English subtitles).

Extras on disc two include a theatrical trailer for Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal (2 minutes 48 seconds, LPCM mono Japanese with removable English subtitles), a theatrical trailer for Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 (2 minutes 38 seconds, LPCM mono Japanese with removable English subtitles), an archival interview with director Yasuharu Hasebe (28 minutes 33 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with removable English subtitles), an archival interview with actor Tatsuya Fuji (30 minutes 6 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with removable English subtitles) and an archival interview actor Yoshio Harada (33 minutes 6 seconds, Dolby Digital stereo Japanese with removable English subtitles). 

Other extras include a 26-page booklet with cast & crew information, an essay titled Blurring the Boundaries from Taiyōzoku to Füenzoku written by Jasper Sharp, and information about the transfer.

Included are two DVDs that have the same content as the Blu-ray included as part of this combo release.

Summary:

The Stray Cat Rock series, which comprises these five films Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal, and Stray Cat Rock: Beat ‘71 were shot over the course of one year in 1970, with the final installment being released in early 1971. Two directors, Yasuharu Hasebe and Toshiya Fujita, are responsible for shaping the themes present in this series. Yasuharu Hasebe directed the following films in the series Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, and Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal. Toshiya Fujita directed Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo and Stray Cat Rock: Beat '71, the series Swan Song.

Notable films also directed by Yasuharu Hasebe include Black Tight Killers, Blood Territories, Female Prisoner Scorpion Grudge Song, Assault Jack the Ripper, Attacked!!, and Rape! 13th Hour. Notable films directed by Toshiya Fujita include Step on the Gas, Lady Snowblood, and Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (Mieko Kaji appeared in all three of these films).

The series featured many of the same actresses and actors in each of the five films, with the main actress featured in all of them being Meiko Kaji. Up to this point in her career, Kaji had yet to make her break through, and one can clearly see as the series progresses, the groundwork is being laid for her later performances in such series as the Female Prisoner and Lady Snowblood series. Other performers who are prominently featured in the series are Bunjyaku Han (Proof of the Man, New Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701) and Tatuya Fuji (In the Realm of the Senses); they both appear in all five films.

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss: A tomboy biker named Ako helps the leader of a girl gang named Mei take on the Black Shirt Corps. This organization is responsible for the death of Mei’s boyfriend, who refused to throw a fight for them.

Though Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss was supposed to be the launching pad for Akiko Wada, the real star of Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss is Mieko Kaji in the role of Mei. Performance-wise, she stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast as she shows glimpses of what is yet to come from her. (Spoiler alert!) And being that Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss was a huge success, it is not surprising that more films were put into production despite the fact that Mieko Kaji’s character dies at the end of the film. (End of Spoiler)

To director Yasuharu Hasebe’s credit, he creates strong female characters, especially when it comes to the abundance of violence in Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss. The women show the men that they can stand toe to toe with them anytime or anywhere. And when it comes to the visuals, Hasebe does not disappoint. Ultimately, Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss is a solid debut for the Stray Cat Rock series, which features many of the clichés and styles that would later be fully established in the third films, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter and Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal.

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo: Bored and wanting more out of life, a group of friends devises a plot to steal money from a dubious organization. Will the plane go off without a hitch, or will the act of indiscretion have deadly consequences?

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo is only a sequel in name, as none of the characters from Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss return for this film. Content wise Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo has a decidedly different vibe than its predecessor. That said, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo does feature a riveting ending that deeply resonates. Besides a different vibe, another area where Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo features a substantial change is its director, Toshiya Fujita, whose approach is on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Yasuharu Hasebe’s take on delinquent youth’s.

Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo’s strength is its cast, who are all very enthusiastic in their respective roles. With the standout performances coming from Mieko Kaji and Tatsuya Fuji, And though there are a few moments of violence, most notably the aforementioned finale, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo also features a substantial amount of humor. Ultimately, as a stand-alone film, Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo is an engaging film that has far more positives than negatives. Unfortunately, when compared to the other films in the Stray Cat Rock series, it is easily the weakest film in the series.

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter: A half-breed named Kazuma comes to town in search of his lost sister, Megumi, whom he hasn’t seen since she was adopted by Mama Blues. Mako is the leader of an all-girl gang that often clashes with an all-male gang named the Eagles, and their leader, Baron, is infatuated with Mako. The baron’s hatred for Kazuma runs deeper than his relationship with Mako, years before his sister was raped by a half-breed. Irritated that Mako and her gang have been helping a Kazuma, the Baron gets back at them by inviting them to a party where they are raped by the men at the party.

Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter is widely regarded as the best film in the series, and nowhere is this more evident than its multilayered plot, which explores mixed ethnicity. In many ways, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter’s is about struggling to find one’s identity; even the Baron, who has fixed prejudices, is not without his own inner struggles. (Spoiler Alert!) Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter’s ultimate moment of acknowledging who one is comes during its finale, when Kazuma's sister, who for the whole film has refused to acknowledge him as her brother, finally calls him. This moment is also bittersweet, as right after she does this, Kazuma shoots her and then kills himself. (End of Spoiler)

Another reason why Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter holds up better than any other in the Stray Cat Rock series is that it marked the return of director Yasuharu Hasebe, who is arguably one of Nikkatsu’s most underrated talents. Many of his contemporaries left Nikkatsu due to their shifting towards Roman porno. He remained and showed that it was possible to retain a high level of creativity and substance when working with such highly erotic subject matter.

In regards to Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, some of its standout moments visually include his use of soft focus cinematography, most notably when photographing Meiko Kaji, and there are a handful of moments where he altered the'scope’ aspect ratio and presented the image in a catastrophic way that framed the image around 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Of course, this film’s standout sequence is the scene where Mako returns to the apartment, where her gang is being raped by the men who paid the baron for their services. She ignites the place with Molotov cocktails.

Performance-wise, the entire cast is superb in their respective roles, and Meiko Kaji gives another outstanding performance. It is ultimately the performance of Tatsuya Fuji in the role of the baron and Rikiya Yasuoka (the executioner) in the role of Kazuma. It is their performances and character pathos that drive Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter.

Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal: Two friends wanting to help another friend, a Vietnam War deserter, concoct a plan to sell a large sum of LSD to help pay for their safe passage to Sweden. Along the way, their plan gets derailed when it is discovered by a local gang that they are trying to sell drugs on their turf.

Once again, Yasuharu Hasebe returns as director. This would mark his third and final contribution to the series. He delivers rock-solid visuals that are inventive, and a few of the techniques that he employed in Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter he carries over to this film. One of the coolest moments is a scene where Maya (Meiko Kaji) and her gang go into a Honda shop and confiscate several bikes.

Though not as heavy as its predecessor in regards to action, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal does deal with some strong subject matter, like the character who objects to the war and is now on the run. Another thing that Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal has going for it is the way it explores guilt, most notably a character named Sakura who is taking care of a young woman named Yuri, who is now crippled and in a wheelchair because of him. He now devotes his life to her, to the point where she is the invisible leader of his gang.

Performance-wise, the cast is all very good in their respective roles, with the most memorable performance coming from Bunjyaku Han in the role of Yuri. She always has a look on her face that is equally devious and angelic. Other performances of note are by Eiji Go (Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs) in the role of Sakura, and Meiko Kaji delivers another strong performance. Ultimately, Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal is neck in neck with Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss as the second-best film in the Stray Cat Rock series.

Stray Cat Rock: Beat ‘71: A wealthy man frames his son's girlfriend, Furiko, for murder to keep them apart. She briefly goes to prison for a crime that she has not committed, only to break out shortly after her arrival. Along the way, she is reunited with her friends, who assist her in her quest for the man she loves.

Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 marks the fifth and final Stray Cat Rock adventure, with Toshiya Fujita, who has previously directed Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo, returning to direct this series finale. Content-wise, Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 follows the same vibe established in Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo. Also, the narrative bears more than a passing similarity to Romeo and Juliette, right down to its tragic ending.

And this time around, the main characters are a different type of gang; they are hippies. The score also reflects Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71’s free-love vibe, and ultimately, the addition of the hippies to the narrative doesn’t help as they just feel out of place in the Stray Cat Rock world.

Performance wise the cast are more than adequate in their respective roles with no one performance standing out more than any other. And without a doubt the most glaring weakness comes back to the cast and how Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 woefully underused Meiko Kaji. Her character starts off as a key player only to disappear for a long period of time, the briefly reemerge and disappear until the final. Ultimately, despite its short comings Stray Cat Rock: Beat ’71 is still an admirable finish to the Stray Cat Rock Series.

Stray Cat Rock Collection gets a good release from Arrow Video that comes with informative extras; unfortunately, the transfers leave plenty of room for improvement.

Note: Arrow Video has rereleased Stray Cat Rock Collection in a standard edition that drops the booklet and the DVD’s.















































Written by Michael Den Boer

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Downtown Heat – Full Moon Features (Blu-ray)

Theatrical Release Date: Spain, 1994
Director: Jesús Franco
Writers: Jesús Franco, Michael Katims
Cast: Mike Connors, Josephine Chaplin, Óscar Ladoire, Craig Hill, Philippe Lemaire, Lina Romay, Antonio Mayans, Víctor Israel

Release Date: March 12th, 2024
Approximate Running Time: 98 Minutes 22 Seconds
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: NR
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: N/A
Region Coding: Region Free
Retail Price: $21.95

"It's a lurid tale of a vengeful jazz musician, his murdered wife, her punk rock lesbian lover and a gang of vigilantes set on bringing down a sadistic drug cartel, all set to relentless jazz-funk soundtrack." - synopsis provided by the distributor

Video: 3.75/5

Here’s the information provided about this release's transfer, "new HD transfer from the original negative."

Downtown Heat comes on a 25 GB single layer Blu-ray.

Disc Size: 21.1 GB

Feature: 19.8 GB

The source is in great shape. Flesh tones look correct, colors look correct, black levels are strong, and any compression-related issues are minor.

Audio: 3.75/5 (Dolby Digital Stereo English), 3.5/5 (Dolby Digital 5.1 English)

This release comes with two audio options, a Dolby Digital stereo mix in English and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in English. Both audio tracks sound clean, clear, and balanced. Range-wise, these two tracks do a good job when it comes to the action sequences. That said, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix offers a slightly more expanded audio experience.

Extras:

Extras for this release include trailers Naked Girl Murdered in the Park, Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, Sexy Sisters, Voodoo Passion and Women in Cellblock 9.

Summary:

Directed by Jess Franco, a prolific filmmaker who made more than 200 films and whose career spanned seven decades. Downtown Heat comes from his later period, right before he made the move to shooting on video.

The narrative revolves around a jazz musician who joins forces with two jaded cops who help him take down a drug kingpin who had his girlfriend murdered.

Downtown Heat starts off as a police procedural, only to morph into a revenge film. And though Jess Franco does a good job handling the basic elements of downtown heat, the result is one of the most bland mainstream films that Jess Franco has ever worked on.

When it comes to the visuals, despite employing Jess Franco’s favorite technique, zooms, there is nothing else about the visuals that is identifiable with Jess Franco's distinct visual style. In fact, the visuals are pedestrian, mostly master shots and closeups. That said, the only time the visuals remind you this is a Jess Franco film is when it comes to nudity.

Throughout his career, casting in one area where Jess Franco usually comes out ahead. And with Downtown Heat, he puts together a good cast that features a few of his regulars and some recognizable Eurocult faces. Unfortunately, when it comes to the performances, they are best described as serviceable.

From a production standpoint, Downtown Heat actually has more resources than most of the films that Jess Franco worked on. And though he makes the most of his resources, it is hard to look past what feels like work for hire. Ultimately, Downtown Heat is bottom-tier Jess Franco.

Downtown Heat gets a strong audio/video presentation from Full Moon Features.








Written by Michael Den Boer

Stray Cat Rock Collection: Limited Edition – Arrow Video (Blu-ray/ DVD Combo) Theatrical Release Dates: Japan, 1970 (Stray Cat Rock: Delinqu...