This is the next entry in a Theatre… a Movie… and a Time, a series that was begun here. Most of the time, I can pinpoint or estimate a date associated with a specific theater and movie for this series of memory downloads. In this case, it’ll be an estimate for the time. But the movie and the place remain indelible because it marked where my love of Japanese cinema began.
The Toho La Brea Theatre:
Somewhere between 1972 and 1973: Some background first. In the late 60’s, the former Fox movie house, known then as the Fox La Brea (see top old photo), became the Toho La Brea Theatre and began running films from Japan. The Japanese film, production, and distributor entity, known as Toho Company, Ltd. spearheaded this move. It had exported its films to the United States starting in the 1950s with the help of Henry G. Saperstein.
Toho opened a few establishments state-side to show its own films directly (without the need of selling them through a U.S. distributor). The La Brea Theatre here in Los Angeles was acquired for this purpose (other theaters in this very small chain were in San Francisco and New York). This exclusive stint of showcasing its films at the theater on the corner of 9th street and La Brea Avenue lasted until late into the 1970s. It is a Korean church as of this posting.
During the 60s, between the early I Spy episodes set in that region of Asia, a particular installment in the Bonanza western series, and watching the dubbed monster classics like Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and others on television, my curiosity began to stir regarding the culture of Japan and tales of the Samurai. As well, my oldest friend from junior and senior High shared stories from his mother’s side of the family and his Japanese heritage.
So when I finally began reading newspapers and noting the ads for this movie hall and its content, I had to see for myself. I traveled to this place one weekend for a matinée screening of Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma (otherwise known as Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades).
I was simply blown away. Amid the fantastic swordplay, over-the-top and colorful carnage, and a story of honor and death (which was also the third installment in a film series based upon an influential manga), I was mesmerized beyond most of the action films I’d seen to that point. In other words, my journey into the province of Akira Kurosawa, Nagisa Oshima, Takeshi Kitano, and others (covering everything from sci-fi and horror, Samurai, Yakuza, solemn dramas and spectacular animation films) started from this one film screening.
The fact that it’s an incredible tale of a betrayed Shogun executioner who takes his young son along for one brutal and blood-soaked ride was just the cherry on top of it all.