NYFF Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses: Celebrating the Nikkatsu Centennial
Founded upon the consolidation of several production companies and theater chains, Nikkatsu Corporation has enjoyed a rich history of film production and distribution since 1912. During World War II, Nikkatsu was forcibly combined with several other Japanese studios to form a large, government-influenced studio, but in 1954 the company resumed production under its own control.
Searching for its own niche in the booming postwar Japanese film industry, Nikkatsu moved into the youth market with its stirring screen adaptation of Shintaro Ishihara’s Season of the Sun. As the vogue for these youth films began to wane in the early Sixties, Nikkatsu launched a series of hard-boiled action films that remain perhaps the company’s best-known period internationally. Led by such action stars as Joe Shishido, Yujiro Ishihara, and Hideaki Nitani, Nikkatsu action introduced a new kind of protagonist, often cynical and at odds with a society revealed to be totally corrupt. With aging action stars and a public looking for something new, Nikkatsu in the Seventies created “Roman Porno,” “romantic pornography,” a series of soft-core erotic films that featured real (if often bizarre) plots and actors.
Remarkably, despite the collapse of the domestic Japanese film market, Nikkatsu has remained continuously in production, branching out into new genre such as horror, martial arts, and even family drama. As it approaches its centenary, Nikkatsu’s motto “We Make Fun Films” remains as true today as it was in its golden era. A new generation of filmgoers are discovering its classic films and filmmakers, inspiring not only the re-release of films from their catalogue but the production of remakes as well.
“Velvet Bullets and Steel Kisses” was organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center with Nikkatsu Corporation, the Japan Foundation, and the National Film Center of Japan. This Centenary Celebration of Nikkatsu will be screened later this year at the Festival of 3 Continents in Nantes, France, as well as at the Cinémathèque Française.