The Hoodlum Priest Films

Hooldlum Priest
Year: 1967
 Yasuda Kimiyoshi
Rating: 6.0

Shintaro Katsu sheds his character of Zatoichi to take on another wandering rascal. The Hoodlum Priest series only lasted for two films and is not to be confused with his series titled the Hoodlum Soldier. The Priest has a few similarities to Zatoichi - they like to gamble and frolic with the occasional woman of the night, they clean up a town and in the end they move on - but Zatoichi has a set of high morals and a weakness in helping the underdog in trouble - but the Priest Ryuzen has no such compulsions or ethics. It is all about him and his needs. At one point he does say "If I can make money and by doing so help people then that is ok". But he is always looking for an angle, a way to bed a woman that is pretty much rape by any definition, a way to make money illegally. He is in other words a Hoodlum! And seemingly a priest though that seems open to question. This difference between him and Zatoichi may be why Zatoichi lasted for decades and became an iconic series while this one lasted for two films. There is only so much time you want to spend with him. But what time you spend is fairly entertaining.

Ryuzen comes across a nearly deserted temple with only an old harmless man living there in squalor and decides to move in. He looks like a tramp with hair that could double for a rats nest and a dirty face that hasn't seen soap and water for a while. But he has plans once he gets the lay of the nearby town. He turns the temple into a gambling parlor and a short time hotel in which men can peek at the goings-on inside. For a price. This doesn't set so well with the local Yakuza who controls the Red Light District and realizes he is losing money to this fly by night operation. He sends a samurai to warn Ryuzen, then the law and then finally his men. Ryuzen doesn't seem to take to the sword but is pretty good with a knife, cudgel and judo. Still it is hard to take to a man who rapes a woman who comes looking for help and then later tells her "Don't worry. I never sleep with a woman more than once". Not exactly our lovable Zatoichi.

It is directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda, who had directed a few of the Zatoichi films as well as a few of the Sleepy Eyes of Death samurai series with Raizô Ichikawa. As two of the women in the film are Ogawa Mayumi as Otatsu, the prostitute with a heart of cold hard cash and Kubo Naoko as the mistress of the Yakuza head who sidetracks Ryuzen with a glimpse of enough thigh that he gives up wrecking the place and beds her instead. By force.

Hooldlum Priest and the Gold Mint
Year: 1968
 Ikehiro Kazuo
Rating: 5.5

The Hoodlum Priest Ryuzen returns in the second and last film of the short series. This one feels like it was done in a hurry and a bit on the cheap coming in at only 79 minutes. As a note, the Hoodlum Priest films have nothing to do with the Wicked Priest series of films that star Shintaro Katsu's brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama, of Lone Wolf and Cub fame. I wonder if anyone has ever tried to count the number of people these two brothers killed in their films. You would need a super computer. Ryuzen's bad behavior is toned down a bit in this second film - he rapes no women - but in the first scene he does peep as oyster women change their clothes - and later peeps as a woman takes a bath. So he hasn't turned into a saint exactly and in fact he spends the film trying to connive people out of their money - but those that deserve it.

A seeming conspiracy is going on that raises Ryuzen's greedy antennae. The brother of the recently departed head of the Mint is meeting up with the boss of the biggest yakuza gang in Edo and a corrupt head of a temple. This intrigues Ryuzen and he begins to hang around trying to pick up information but instead picks up the mistress of the Yakuza head for a little touch and tickle while the boss is away. Later he comes across a woman named Otsuya, flung across a rock in the sea with no memory of who she is or how she got there. He finds a note on her that implies that she is the illegal child of the former head of the Mint and thus the rightful heir. The brother is sending bad guys to kill her. But there is more here than seems apparent and Ryuzen sees an opportunity to make a bundle by helping her get to Edo. He of course has to fight off attackers along the way.

There is not a lot of zing to the film - and there seems to be no real effort to create period settings - most of it taking place in inn rooms, outside and in compounds. Basic sets in every period film. Shintaro again turns to a familiar director that he must have been comfortable with - Kazuo Ikehiro - who like the previous director helmed a few of the Zatoichi films and the Sleepy Eyes of Death films. Kayo Matsuo who plays Otsuya was in her share of popular films - a Lone Wolf and Cub film, Sleepy Eyes of Death and five Seijun Suzuki films.