Somber Samurai

Little-known in these parts, genre director Tai Kato (1916­1985), subject of a nine-film retro at Japan Society (March 19 through May 21), was a master of relentlessly somber, beautifully crafted samurai and yakuza flicks. Born in Kobe, he went to Tokyo to apprentice with his uncle, Sadao Yamanaka, the best Japanese period-film director of the 1930s. Kato started making his own films in 1951, and, by the time of Love for a Mother (1962), had developed a style based on extremely long takes and very low-angle shots— he went so far as to dig holes in the ground for the camera. Love is that oddity, an action weepie, the tale of a lonely gambler trying to find the mother who abandoned him as a child. It stars irresistible pretty boy Kinnosuke Nakamura, a teen idol who bears an uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley. Equally stylish, but considerably more violent, Blood of Revenge (1965), plays out a turf war through a complicated series of assassinations and fascinating gangland succession rituals. In its smashing climax, the hero jumps from a speeding train through the closed window of the bad guys' hideout, sword in hand. Top that, Jackie Chan.

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