Saturday, June 11, 2016

Danger Pays (1962)


Director: Ko Nakahira
Notable Cast: Jo Shishido, Hiroyuki Nagato, Ruriko Asaoka, Arihiro Fujimura, Eiji Go, Bokuzen Hidari, Kojiro Kusanagi, Torahiko Hamada

I love Jo Shishido. Since I started earnestly digging into the Japanese films of the 60s and 70s (with a major tip of the hat to Arrow Video for being so aggressive with their Nikkatsu releases in the last year), he’s come to be one of my favorite aspects of the era. However, I had yet to see him in a more comedic role and it was one of the many reasons I was so excited to really sink my teeth into Danger Pays, the second of three films included in the newest Arrow Video release Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 2. Here, Jo Shishido leads an ensemble cast in a comedic action film that knows how to balance the two genres and runs with such a manic energy that it’s hard not to be swept up in the offbeat laughs and unrelenting pace of the film. The film is often very silly and features a few truly WTF moments, but when it’s this full speed assault that makes the film work so well.

Glass Hearted Joe (Jo Shishido) has just heard the news. A criminal group has stolen a lot of water marked paper from the government to use as counterfeit bills. He’s on top of it though and knows they will try and work with the best counterfeit artist in Japan so he intends to beat them to the punch. However, he’s not the only one that has made the connection and he will have to battle three other criminals to out maneuver, out smart, and out gun the criminal organization behind it all.

It's a rough time getting massages when you're Jo Shishido.
I’m not all that familiar with director Ko Nakahira, although I have read about him and his debut Crazed Fruit in a variety of places, so unfortunately I am unable to really give context to how Danger Pays fits into his fairly long filmography. If there is anything that I can say about his work on this film though it’s this: the guy can balance. The action comedy concept might not be original in any way, shape, or form even by 1962, but Nakahira and company sure know how to keep things moving swiftly like an action thriller, while retaining enough time and sense to give the film breathing room for a joke. Danger Pays feeds off of this energetic tone and balls it up to keep the audience hooked. Even when the film doesn’t make sense or has to use obvious plot convenience to keep up the pacing, this manic feel gives it enough momentum to keep things pushing forward. There’s plenty of action to be consumed here, including an impressively spunky shoot out in the final act and a break in sequence that involves backing a dump truck into a dance club, but truly the film is timed perfectly to be full on comedy too and it’s this focus on the set up and punch line that makes Danger Pays so charismatic. Usually it’s the action and thriller pieces that set up the comedic punches and it’s a formula that packs a whollup.

Danger Pays original poster artwork.
It helps that Nakahira and his writers have a fantastic ensemble cast to really work with that are all game for the ridiculousness that goes on display here. Jo Shishido shines as the main protagonist of the film, a gimmicky character with his colored suits and horrified fear of the sound of scratched glass, but he’s lifted by some seriously funny secondary performances. While his two rivals, both very gimmicky too (although Slide Rule’s use of a slide rule to figure out probabilities leads to some of the film’s funnier moments) own their respective scenes, it might be Ruriko Asaoka as a Judo trained receptionist hell bent to earn enough money to move to France that steals a lot of the movie. She’s enigmatically charming and a useless sequence where she gets into a Judo fight with a truck driver is completely sold by her performance. The writing helps all of this flow nicely and Nakahira sure knows how to balance it, but the performances are all key to the film’s success and it makes these two-bit criminals fun to follow as they attempt to rob the robbers. 
"Guns are not in my dental plan!"
Danger Pays isn’t the kind of comedy that has a lot depth or a moral grounding that most comedies seem obsessed with adding in to their writing, but it’s one of the more effective action comedies that I’ve seen in a while. It balances its thrills with some diverse comedy, fantastic performances, and an energetic pacing that makes it a great watch for those interested in what Nikkatsu had to offer in the comedy department of this golden era. The new HD transfer looks wonderful in this set too. If you’re a Nikkatsu fan, Jo Shishido fan, or just a fan of obscure foreign cinema, I highly suggest picking up this Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 2 set just for Danger Pays. It’s worth it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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