Monday, August 12, 2019

The Best Play for Real Money, the Remarkable Play for Forgeries

Sometimes the most hazardous path is the most profitable. But sometimes that profit comes in the form of counterfeit bills as in 1962's Danger Pays (危いことなら銭になる), a gangster comedy from Studio Nikkatsu. From a film starring Joe Shishido, I was hoping for a more straightforward gangster film but I grew to really like the injection of screwball comedy to the format, coming out something like Too Many Crooks, a real comedy instead of a postmodern parody.

Joe plays "Glass Joe", one of three goofballs, three low-level yakuza trying to find their way into a big outfit. Each one has a name reflecting some weird personality trait--Slide Rule (Hiroyuki Nagato) is obsessed with measuring the statistical probabilities of every decision, Dump Truck (Kojiro Kusanagi) is a heavy, and Glass Joe has a mental break every time anyone scratches glass to make a squeaking sound. As you can imagine, this comes into play more than once.

The trio sometimes work together, more often they're hustling against each other. When they catch wind of a counterfeiting scheme by one of the big outfits they all rush to the airport to be the first to pretend to be the grandson or son of the elderly, master money forger who turns out to be none other than Bokuzen Hidari.

Fans of Akira Kurosawa will recognise him from several of that great filmmaker's best movies, including Seven Samurai, Ikiru, and The Lower Depths. But in Japan at the time, Hidari was primarily known as a comedic actor and appeared in a wide range of genre films. With all the young gangsters rushing around and chattering at lightspeed as a befits a screwball comedy, the slow-talking Hidari with his permanent Weary Willie expression is a perfect counterpoint as he pours forth his wisdom on what makes a great counterfeit bill.

It's weird to see Shishido playing such a goofball. Normally he played badasses. Here he comically runs down the street at the sight of two pieces of glass rubbed against each-other, wearing a burgundy suit in contrast to everyone else's grey, and a trilby that looks two sizes too small.

He finds an ally in another of the film's great assets, the adorable Ruriko Asaoka as Tomoko, receptionist for the big yakuza outfit. His first question when he sees her is an incredulous, "How old are you?" She, mistaking him for a salesman, replies, "Young enough. I don't need any cosmetics, thank you."

JOE: Who raised you? I want to talk to them.

TOMOKO: You can't! They're six feet under.

JOE: Not every man is a salesman, you know.

When Joe answers the phone for her it turns out to be her boss on the line who immediately fires her. She angrily tosses Joe against the wall, revealing that she just so happens to be an expert in Judo. She informs him her dream is to one day teach Judo in Paris.

Despite this rocky start, they become allies and they work together to raid the club Acapulco where the big gang has set up Hidari with his requested erotic working environment--under the glass floor stage where women dance in lingerie.

Every second of the film seems to have twelve gags and mostly it all works--especially since the characters take hold really well, particularly Joe and Tomoko. Danger Pays is available on Amazon Prime.

Twitter Sonnet #1266

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Concealing phones in trees prolongs the call.
A million voices spoke along the band.
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A crystal glass contains a whisky shot.
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No diners came for all professed were cooks.

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