Written by master director Kihachi Okamoto, silly non-stop action with a touch of James Bond…
Despite of Nikkatsu’s cosmopolitan “borderless action films” (Mukokuseki akushon) having grown in popularity in recent years, it was another studio, Toho, which could actually be called the “most international” Japanese film studio of the 1960s. In contrast to the rather rurally dominated demographics of production companies such as Daiei and Shochiku, the films of Toho catered to the urban audience of the middle class.
Office workers, retailers or students awaited the release of every new Hollywood film with great anticipation. Therefore, Toho produced mostly program films in the 1960s that tried to satisfy the audience’s demand for more internationalized fare. Swinging musicals, film noir, and – after the initial success of the James Bond series – even spy movies.
Often centering around Interpol’s fight against crime, film series such as International Crime Police (Kokusai himitsu keisatsu, 5 films, 1963 – 1967) – in the West better known as Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), offered exciting spy fun with a dash of irony – following the example of the first James Bond films starring Sean Connery.
Less known, but just as silly, is the Toho spy movie Iron Finger. Godzilla-Star Akira Takarada plays Andrew Hoshino, who, armed with perfect English and French skills, fashionable suits – and a gun, soon reveals himself to be a Interpol agent…
Believed to be an Interpol agent, Franco-Japanese globetrotter Andrew Hoshino (Akira Takarada) finds himself in the midst of a gang war between two Yakuza clans fighting for the favour of a mysterious ring of arms smugglers. Soon, Andrew turns out to be a professional survivalists and excellent marksman who, being supported by beautiful assassin girl Yumi (Mie Hama) and the bumbling detective Tezuka (Ichiro Arishima), wants to put a stop to the gang’s criminal activities.
Toho’s crime films were mostly conceived as harmless entertainment, silly and inconsequential films for the whole family. Therefore, it’s safely to assume that the success of the James Bond series was only partly responsible for inspiring Iron Finger. In the end, Iron Finger is primary run-of-the-mill Toho action entertainment in the guise of an ironic spy flick.
For budget reasons, we have to do without international locations, cool spy gadgets appear only occasionally and even the villains are no megalomaniac criminal masterminds with the ambition to dominate the world, but ordinary arms smugglers, at least with a Caucasian leader at the top.
However, the main character, Andrew Hoshino, is a true cosmopolitan. Akira Takarada plays him as a carefree jack-of-all-trades, mischievous and bold, a smile on his face even in the most dangerous situations. Thanks to Takarada’s playful performance this hero is likeable and charismatic, despite completely lacking the coolness and the sex appeal of Sean Connery.
Given this carefree protagonist, the danger in which Hoshino is confronted with always remains pure farce. In addition to the tension and the peculiar touch of gloom that accompanied even the most ironic of Connery’s Bond films, Iron Finger also lacks a common thread to concentrate the inanities of the film. The plot about Andrew’s fight against a gang of arms smugglers is rather loosely woven and character drawing is reduced to a minimum.
Unsurprisingly, one of the authors of the screenplay was the later master director Kihachi Okamoto, whose early films often sacrificed a coherent plot for a brisk pace and absurd gags. In this regard, Iron Finger manages to entertain well over the course of 90 minutes with silly, but always rapidly paced nonsense.
All of this coupled with the typical silly humour of Toho crime films. Over the course of the film, Andrew Hoshino is kidnapped again and again. He loses his hat even more often. In one scene, the beautiful femme fatale Yumi shoots in the air. A dead rat falls to the ground. At the sight of the dead rodent, the girl faints. Welcome to the sophisticated world of Toho comedy!
Monster and action film specialist Jun Fukuda’s direction can be described as very solid. Stylistically, he imitates the colourful Eastman Color look of the early James Bond films, not very original perhaps, but in its perfection almost too well crafted for such a B production.
What remains in the end is a small film that demands from the viewer to switch off his brain: a senseless, well crafted farce, always in motion, always entertaining and always a bit silly. But who says that you have to take this film too seriously? The filmmakers didn’t, so why should you…?