December 12, 2014

3 Seconds Before Explosion (1967)

Lately I've been watching quite a few 1960s action films produced by the Japanese film studio Nikkatsu. These violent action-thrillers were the studio's bread and butter in the 1960s: made cheaply, shot quickly, and packed with lurid visuals and edited at a breakneck pace. They were considered disposable entertainment at the time, but recent years have seen a whole new audience of movie geeks discover them and re-appraise them in a new light.

3 Seconds Before Explosion (1967) is a valuable film to watch in this light, but not necessarily for the reasons you would think. It's easy to watch the cream of the crop from Nikkatsu and assume their entire ouevre was packed with underrated action masterpieces. The truth is that making films on the cheap and in a production line fashion generally results in pretty crappy movies. This is what we've got with 3 Seconds Before Explosion: it's cheap, it's fast (less than 90 minutes), and to an extent it provides a bit of kitsch popcorn entertainment, but that's about the extent of it.

The film follows superspy Yabuki (a rather dashing Akira Kobayashi) as he attempts to locate and collect a long-lost set of uncut gemstones that were stolen during World War II. The country that lost them wants them back. Two rival criminal gangs want them. The Japanese government wants them. Due to a slightly confused statute of limitations, whoever possesses the jewels in three days will legally own them.

The film is a very generic set of shoot-outs, punch-ups and double-crosses. The acting is broad and simplistic and the fight scenes are ridiculously unconvincing. While the film is shot in the typical Cinemascope format that most Japanese films used in the 1960s, it's visually rather dull and unengaging. It's not a bad film, but it's a completely ordinary one. With other films out there that are either better made or are at least more interesting failures, there's not too much to draw someone to bother with this. It's a valuable lesson: just because you've been exposed to the best of something, it doesn't automatically follow that all of it is as good as the best. It's a lesson more fans of classic cinema need to learn.

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