Ubisoft Presents Fantasia 2008

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Velvet Hustler

(Kurenai no nagareboshi / Like a Shooting Star)
Sponsored by: FAB Press

Canadian Premiere

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Director: Toshio Masuda
Screenplay: Kaneo Ikegami, Toshio Masuda
Cast: Tetsuya Watari, Ruriko Asaoka, Kayo Matsuo, Tatsuya Fuji, Jo Shishido
Distributor: Nikkatsu


Goro is a hitman who likes his women like he likes his cars—fast and dangerous. After a year of lying low, he has wound up the kingpin of the Kobe underground, hanging out in smoky lounge bars by the downtown port area, keeping the US marines on leave from Vietnam in check, while avoiding both Uzu the suspicious police detective who has trailed him all the way down from Tokyo, and the mysterious hitman sent to kill him. But Goro is bored of life with his current moll Yukari and pines to leave vulgar Kobe to return to the sophisticated big city. This desire gains greater impetus when he gets embroiled with Keiko, the strikingly beautiful daughter of a jeweler. Keiko soon finds herself drawn into a more dangerous world than the one she is accustomed to.

More self-consciously stylish and comic than the usual Nikkatsu Action product, VELVET HUSTLER resembles Watari's most famous Nikkatsu film in the West, Seijun Suzuki's TOKYO DRIFTER (1966). For one thing, they both share the same art director, the brilliant Takeo Kimura. Masuda's film, however, is less notable for its assaults on genre conventions than its sexual by-play between Watari's cocky hood, who whistles while he works—inspired by Jean Paul Belmondo's equally carefree character in Jean-Luc Godard's BREATHLESS—and Asaoka's spoiled rich girl, with her frankly appraising glance and deadpan wit (Asaoka dazzles with her Audrey Hepburn-ish looks, sass and glamour). In this duel between equals, the audience wins, as the result is one of the most breathlessly stylish movies you'll ever see. VELVET HUSTLER is the very definition of gangster chic, and quite probably the coolest Japanese movie of the 1960s.

—Mark Schilling