Sunday, January 17, 2016

Red Pier (1958)


Director: Toshio Masuda
Notable Cast: Jujiro Ishihara, Mie Kitahara, Yukiko Todoroki, Shiro Osaka

Working through the Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 1 set from Arrow Video has already been a treat. After the surprisingly toned down Seijun Suzuki film Voice Without a Shadow shocked me, I was shocked once again by the quality of Red Pier. Again, this is a director with whom I am not all that familiar with and a crew that is essentially new to me too, but Red Pier takes a rather by the numbers young gangster story and adds a ton of depth and heart to the matter. It’s not a film that’s super stylistic or even all that aggressive with some of its themes, but it’s a well-rounded and thoughtful take on what could have been a formulaic film. It's one that has enough surprises in its sleeves that fans ought to be excited for it.

“Lefty” Jiro (Yujiro Ishihara) is fresh from Tokyo, a hot shot rising up in the ranks of his gang, and he’s making a splash in the port city he’s working in. After the death of a rival drug dealer sets him in the sights of a local cop (Shiro Osaka), he finds himself wondering what life would be like away from all of this and a new love interest only spurs the notion further. How hard is it to walk away from the gun when the gun has been the only reliable thing in your life?

Blooming romance...on a log fence.
Instead of focusing on the rather by-the-numbers plotting of a young yakuza man who finds himself on the run from killers and cops, Red Pier has the smarts to maneuver itself into being a film that’s a character study for its protagonist Jiro. While the acting chops of Diamond Guy Yujiro Ishihara as the lead can be relatively hit or miss at times (some of his material is a bit over the top too), director Toshio Masuda keeps secondary characters and plot progressions hovering around the character in some intriguing ways to give the character a lot of room to grow and move. A romantic love triangle is often heartbreaking in how effectively it’s built into the plot, the shifting alliances of his cohorts and snitches to the police keep the “heat” up as the plot blooms into a more complicated matter, and an almost father/son like relationship that Jiro has with the local cop comes full circle in a lot of very satisfying ways. Red Pier really dives into its writing and adds a lot of depth in subtle ways and it’s the best thing that the film has going for it.

"Tell me or I'll rip your shirt."
It also helps that director Masuda adds in just enough flair for the visuals to keep some of the more generic moments interesting. When one of Jiro’s protégés attempts to confront an assassin that is sent to take care of Jiro, it’s Masuda’s ability to craft thriller like tension that sells the subplot’s soul which is highlighted by a waterside duel. This happens repeatedly in various scenes that might have been throw away moments. A car ride to the docks. A port festival rendezvous with Jiro’s new crush. A young boy and his harmonica. All of these are moments that could have easily been basic shoot, edit, and print moments that are given a strong visual life in the film by the director.

He wears his sunglasses at night, so he can, so he can keep track of visions in his head.
While Red Pier might not be for everyone with its rather predictable plotting and its more dramatic approach to its characters versus the thriller elements that keep it a genre film, it’s also remarkably effective as selling a heart and soul as a character study. It’s a strong visual film and it packs quite a bit of emotion and growth for the characters that litter the sea side port of its setting. This is definitely a great choice for Arrow Video to add to their Nikkatsu collection and one that comes off as a huge surprise. I may not have had any expectations going in, but I sure was pleased when I came out of Red Pier.

I cannot wait to dive into the third and final film of the set, The Rambling Guitarist, to see if it can live up to the successes of the first two films.


  • Limited Edition Blu-ray collection (3000 copies)
  • High Definition digital transfers of all three films, from original film elements by Nikkatsu Corporation
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Specially recorded video discussions with Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp on Diamond Guys Hideaki Nitani and Yujiro Ishihara
  • Original trailers for all three films and trailer preview for Diamond Guys Vol. 2
  • Extensive promotional image galleries for all three films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • Booklet featuring new essays on all three films and director profiles by Stuart Galbraith, Tom Mes and Mark Schilling

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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