Outside of festivals and educational institutions, film lectures are rather rare occurrences here in the United States. When they are held, lectures tend to focus on “haute” film culture. Many a bleary eyed evening has been spent slowly nodding off to droning about the virtues of the French New Wave and German Expressionism. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about and researching those sort of topics on my own, but I’d much rather experience them for myself. In any case, lectures about cult film are even more rare. In the pre-internet past, with very few true authorities in our community, fans have relied heavily on word-of-mouth for the latest “fix”. It seems like just yesterday that Japanese film fans whispered to each other, “Hey, do you know there’s going to be a movie with both Riki Takeuchi AND Sho Aikawa in it?” (what would later become the first in Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive series). Even though bloggers and podcasters are changing this, there are still certain cinematic subgenres and regions that are still ripe for exploring. Enter Patrick Macias.
Though Patrick is better known for his work in the anime and manga in the otaku arena – he’s editor-in-chief of Otaku USA, a magazine almost completely dedicated to the two media, it seems he’s always had a soft spot for Japanese cult film in general and yakuza film in particular. His “Pulp Cult” column in the defunct Fresh PULP magazine kept alive the names of Sonny Chiba, Seijun Suzuki, and Shinya Tsukamoto in the late ’90s and at the cusp of the “Asian Extreme” film boom at the time. The spirit of that column has continued on with Macias’ “Tokyoscope” column in Otaku USA as well as his book of the same name, a veritable primer for Japanese cult film enthusiasts.
Through New People, Patrick’s first lecture series, “Yakuza Night Fever!” was billed as a look at the outlaw, losers, and tough guys of these films. At first glance, I thought this was a rather odd choice of a film subgenre to start a Japanese film lecture series with, something akin to starting a classic rock retrospective with a lecture on Uriah Heep. Sure, both have their value (Uriah Heep fans, you’ll need to help me out with this one), but one might think that Godzilla or samurai films might have been more fitting to really start the series with a bang. Part of the reason for the event was to coincide with the release of the Yakuza 3 video game for the Playstation 3 since it allowed a little sponsorship by the game’s publisher, Sega. Another, and probably much bigger and more important, reason is that yakuza film appears to be a subgenre very close to Patrick’s heart.
Before I talk about the event, let me describe the setting in one long breath of a sentence: VIZ Cinema is a theater located in the New People building constructed by VIZ Pictures founder Seiji Horibuchi about a year ago. The cinema features films and anime primarily on VIZ’s DVD label and has a small 2-level theater with 143 comfortable seats and an excellent THX sound system. Two breaths, so sue me.
Patrick’s lecture was primarily a chronological history of yakuza film, starting from Akira Kurosawa’s 1948 film Drunken Angel, considered to be the first with a yakuza, played by a somewhat hammy Toshiro Mifune, as a featured character to the more traditionally minded ninkyo (lit. “chivalry”) era of the ’60s, the wilder jitsuroku (“true account”) era of the ’70s, and finally to the cracker jack gangsters of the ’80s and ’90s V-Cinema era. Interspersed throughout were trailers and scenes from representative films of the various eras including a somewhat gruesome pinkie chopping (NSFW link, by the way) from Noboru Ando’s mondo movie-like Yakuza Zankoku Hiroku: Kataude. Patrick’s tying in of the ‘reel’ yakuza in with the ‘real’ yakuza was an interesting contrast because, as the former became more cartoon-like in appearance and mannerism, the latter went in the opposite direction by becoming a near legitimate facet of everyday Japanese society, a subject which VCinema will cover sometime in the future.
Overall, Yakuza Night Fever was a very entertaining lecture. Yakuza movie fans and/or readers of Patrick’s TokyoScope probably would have felt that not much new ground was covered, but the lecture would have been a good introduction to those new to the genre (which incidentally seemed like most of the fifty or so attendees). But, given Patrick’s casual speech and mannerisms, along with his enthusiasm and multimedia presentation really made the lecture enjoyable. Also, according to the flyer for the event, this was only the first of hopefully many other film, manga, and anime related lectures to come. Patrick has already mentioned the next will be in early April 2010.
To hear an exclusive interview with Patrick Macias, watch this website or iTunes for the fifth episode of the VCinema podcast, Yakuzathon! In this interview, Patrick gives a mini yakuza film lecture, impressions of the Yakuza Night Fever event, details about his next lecture as well as talks about his past, current, and future projects, episode-specific topics and more.
03/18/10 Errata: A slight change was made to the above text to clarify that the Yakuza Night Fever event was conceived by New People and not Viz Media. In addition, New People was in fact was constructed by Viz’s founder, Seiji Horibuchi, but not Viz itself. We apologize to all parties involved for the inaccuracies.