Friday, October 16, 2015

TERROR IN THE STREETS! Toho's Rarely Seen Hitchcockian Thriller!

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

In this age of DVDs, Blu-rays, digital downloads, and everything else at our disposal, it's hard to believe that there are certain films out there that are by no means lost or intentionally withdrawn from circulation, yet are just about impossible to find. For fans of Toho sci-fi and horror films, one such title is the thriller Terror in the Streets (a.k.a. Akuma ga yondeiru, 1970), directed by Michio Yamamoto (Toho's Bloodthirsty trilogy) and scored by Riichiro Manabe (Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon).

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

Thanks to a very good friend of mine, I was finally able to see the elusive film in its entirety. Much speculation has arisen about the film in recent years, with many fans wondering just how much it could be classified as a genre picture. In order to find the answer, let's examine the film.

Yuri Ebara (played by actress Wakako Sakai) is a contract employee of a travel agency who is suddenly fired by her boss. To make matters worse, her boyfriend breaks up with her the same day. And, as if that weren't enough, she is also kicked out of her apartment.

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

When she is thrown out of her apartment, a rather spooky and mysterious woman says goodbye to her since she is moving out of the complex. After her encounter with the old lady, she spots a stalker watching her from outside her window. Then she hears a mysterious ocarina sound of unknown origin.

Undaunted after her firing, Yuri applies for a job at a publisher and goes in for a job interview. During this time, she meets a handsome gentleman who works as an editor at the company. Feeling hopeful, she is confident that she will be hired and buys a purse to celebrate.

Yuri comes home to discover that her room has been ransacked and that her bankbook and hanko stamp have been stolen. To add insult to injury, it seems that her wallet was pick-pocketed by some thief as well. Shortly thereafter, Yuri's hopes become crushed when she receives a rejection letter from the company to which she applied for a job.

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

Desperate for a job, she goes to a nearby bar and begins work as a hostess. As she talks with a lecherous old businessman, a heated squabble between the two soon erupts, and Yuri finds herself out of a job once again.

In total despair, she goes to an Odakyu Line train crossing to kill herself, but she is soon saved (or so it would seem) by the man who has been following her. He takes her to a restaurant and gives her a sleeping pill, after which he brings her home to her apartment in a taxi. He asks her to marry him, which she immediately refuses. The two begin to struggle, and Yuri loses consciousness. The next morning, however, she finds the man stabbed to death. Confused and frightened, she flees the scene and ends up meeting the editor again, who tells her she had been accepted for the position at the publishing company after all. (Someone had sent her a phony rejection letter.)

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

She is now suspected of murder by the police and gets abducted by two people (a man and a woman) who take her to a go-go club. There she is forced to marry another man (played by Toshiaki Nishizawa, a.k.a. Kubota in Godzilla vs. Gigan). But the ceremony is suddenly interrupted by the lecherous businessman from earlier in the picture. Chaos ensues, but the kidnappers eventually escape and bring Yuri back to the man's apartment. There they find that the businessman is already inside, but this time he and his bodyguard are armed.

We soon learn that Yuri was appointed the inheritor in the will of a wealthy individual who is not related to her. All three of the would-be husbands (or killers) are related to this wealthy person, so if any of them can marry, adopt, or kill Yuri, they might get the inheritance.

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

Throughout the film, whenever Yuri is in danger, the men hear the same strange ocarina tune, which aggravates and disturbs them, but the source of the sound remains a mystery.

After Yuri's daring escape from the apartment, she meets up again with the editor, and together they go to the villa of the deceased old man. There they meet his widow. She was her neighbor (and the spooky old woman) at the apartment complex. She was treated badly by her husband and got cut out of the will, so she became furious and got these men involved in her scheme for revenge. She wanted all three of them to kill each other and used the ocarina to confuse and disorient them.

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

The movie is a straightforward thriller, and it is probably the most a Toho horror film ever comes to feeling like a Hitchcock suspense film. The business with the ocarina mysteriously being heard at various times has elements of the supernatural, but in the final analysis the movie is firmly grounded in the real world (even if the old lady's scheme is quite preposterous).

A good portion of the film feels like it could easily fit in with Yamamoto's Bloodthirsty trilogy, and a viewer could see the vengeance-obsessed old lady as this film's vampire character. In any event, the go-go club scene looks like it belongs in a Ken Russell film, and interestingly it predates the similar setting in Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster by a year. In fact, during the scene, Yuri tries to get the attention of a dancer who looks like she might have the prototype for Keiko Mari's character in Smog Monster.

Terror in the Streets © 1970, Toho Co., Ltd.

I enjoyed the film quite a bit, and at about 76 minutes, it moves quickly and doesn't wear out its welcome. I must praise Wakako Sakai's emotional performance, as she spends the bulk of the movie in absolute terror. She's very convincing in her role, and it's hard not to feel sympathy for her. Given that she usually played perky, upbeat young women at this point in her career (especially opposite Yuzo Kayama in the lighthearted Young Guy series), it certainly demonstrates her acting range.

It's great to have discovered this long-hidden gem of Toho's Showa era. Even though there aren't any ghostly creatures, it certainly qualifies as a horror film (or at least as a suspense thriller), and hopefully one day it will see the light on DVD. It most definitely deserves a broader audience.

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