THE STRANGER IN JAPAN aka THE SILENT STRANGER (1968) Luigi Vanzi


(Squonkamatic) #1

Finally examining the new Eyecatcher/NEW PAL release of this long neglected title. It’s a fullframe transfer that looks a tad dark in spots, probably a 16mm reduction print that was then blown back up to 35, and it may even be an old analog transfer prepared for home video but who knows. There’s some surface noise issues to the print and the color is a bit odd but it’s a pleasure to simply be able to finally see this movie. English and German audio with optional German subs + you also get an English language theatrical trailer … The English audio track is very crisp and clear with what has to be Stelvio Cipriani’s most offbeat musical score yet to grace my ears.

The movie itself is extremely odd, I’m not really much for these spaghetti/karate hybrids but from what I can tell this was one of the first (1968) and is unique from the others that I’ve seen (STRANGER & THE GUNFIGHTER, FIGHTING FISTS OF SHANGHAI JOE) in that instead of importing the martial artist into the west they import a gunslinger into a samurai war. Naturally everyone still ride horses and they also manage to work a Gatling Gun into the festivities, and there’s even a couple of early examples of the old “Just shoot the guy with the sword” gag that Speilberg got so much mileage out of in the Indiana Jones movies. There’s still a sadistic bad guy with lots of nasty henchmen to kill off, and Tony Anthony is up to his old tricks again, and even managed to find a little part for Raf Baldasarre, who’s always one of my favorite supporting characters.

Working against the film is the BLADE RUNNER syndrome Unnecessary Voiceover Narration in spots where Anthony sort of needlessly explains what’s happening onscreen: The movie is only called THE SILENT STRANGER. I can understand the impetus for including it for English language distribution in skullf*cked idiot markets like North America, but I found the narrations intrusive on the idea of the Stranger literally being a stranger in a strange land where he doesn’t understand the language, customs, methods of fighting, etc. It would have been better if we’d had to learn our way around along with the Stranger, and I wonder if the voiceover technique was also used on the Italian language original … Knowing Allen Klein, probably.

One of the things that works to compensate, however, is the uniqueness of the production design. Instead of dry, dusty tumbleweeds it’s a very lush and green world, with a lot of the action happening in pouring rain which I see a bit of Kurosawa in. The fight scenes are all impeccably staged too, it’s too bad we aren’t seeing it in widescreen because I’m sure some of the chaos is lost by losing the 1:85:1 compositions, but there’s enough offbeat mayhem to keep anyone happy. And then there is that big, weird blunderbuss type firearm he eventually gloms onto, which has to be seen to be believed.

It also looks like Anthony had a lot of fun making the movie, which comes off at times as justification for a nice vacation to Japan for Tony and some of his friends, with Allen Klein picking up the bill in exchange for having a movie to distribute. Sadly from what I have read he chose not to distribute it after getting into a tiff with MGM so the movie wasn’t released in the States until after the spaghetti era had come to a close. So for that reason alone the DVD might be worth checking out, hardly anybody ever saw it at the time and I’ve never heard of another English language home video release so there you go: If you like Tony Anthony “Stranger” movies, here’s another reason to re-arrange your shelf. Gorgeous box too, though again some may find the transfer to be unsatisfactory. Until something else turns up however it will have to do, and I’m glad to have it.


(lordradish) #2

Nice.

What year did this end up coming out in the states, like 10 years later or something? I remember reading an interview with Anthony somewhere where he mentions it.


(ENNIOO) #3

Nice and informative review.


(Chris_Casey) #4

“skullf*cked idiot markets like North America” ??
:slight_smile:

Well, maybe certain parts of North America…but, not the whole damn place, amigo! ;D

You 've done a very nice and helpful review!
I was wondering about the quality of the Eyecatcher release…and now I know.
Thanks!

As far as I have been able to determine, THE SILENT STRANGER (STRANGER IN JAPAN) wasn’t released in the USA until the summer of 1975.


(Squonkamatic) #5

I forgot to mention that the opening credits are in German, which would make sense for a German company to perhaps be using a German language print and then adding an English audio option from a different source.

The last quarter of the film is basically a running fight with Tony Anthony doing the Stranger thing – scuttling about, killing people ungraciously, being a scoundrel who means well etc – but in a teeming rainstorm filmed at night. The transfer was VERY dark in spots during this section (I was writing the above “review” while watching it for the first time) almost to the point where it was difficult to see just what was going on. I would be very interested to learn just what kind of a source print they used, or whether it was indeed a previously existing transfer that they “remastered”; in patches you can see that digital haze that looks like someone trying to tweak the color up so they knew they didn’t have the best material for this.

Does anyone know if GET MEAN is supposed to be another proper Stranger movie?? I was reading about it the other day and of course must see it at some point.


(Chris_Casey) #6

Yes, GET MEAN is a part of Anthony’s “Stranger” series.
The film has its moments; but, overall it just doesn’t work, in my opinion.
If you thought STRANGER IN JAPAN was odd…then you will likely find GET MEAN utterly bizarre!


(scherpschutter) #7

Very nice work, Squonkamatic (If you wonder how my name is supposed to be pronounced, what about this one?)

Like you I don’t like those karate-spaghetti hybrids, but this one sounds interesting
I’ll try to find out if that voice over was used in the Italian version


(Stanton) #8

http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Straniero_di_silenzio%2C_Lo

As far as I know the film was released nowhere before 1974. German release was 15.8.1975.

So it came out just when the other east/west hybrids popped up, or possibly the new trend (which quickly became an old one) was the only reason that The Silent Stranger actually got a release.

Any informations about the exact italian release date? Phil, what does your book say?

The aspect ratio of the DVD is a open matte one, so that you only have to imagine the black bars on bottom and top to get the 1,78:1 theatrical aspect ratio.
(The skilful DIYer can of course build them by himself :smiley: ;))


(Stanton) #9

By the way I’m also looking for premiere release dates for Get Mean and Comin’ at Ya!


(scherpschutter) #10

Can’t find much on the film in Italian
It’s not even discussed on the Italian Spaghetti Western Database, so we’ll have to wait for Phil and his book

Lo Straniero di Silenzio is best translated by (simply) The Silent Stranger
(una pistola di oro = a golden pistol)


(Phil H) #11

According to the Dizionario, release date for Get Mean was 1975, Comin’ at Ya was 1981 (85 in Spain)


(Phil H) #12

As for The Silent Stranger, it appears less clear.
It is listed in the Dizionario as 1968-1977 and as having either 102 or 90 min lengths. This is very unusual for this book, which usually has definite years of release to the point of listing them for different countries. So to list it as 68-77 suggests some ambiguity to say the least.
However, as I’ve stated before, I am not an italian speaker so it is very possible that this ambiguity is explained in the body of the text. I’m more than happy to post the entire entry in italian if someone (Scherps?) wants to translate it.


(Stanton) #13

I’m searching exact dates with month and day, these 3 are amongst the few where I only have the year.


(scherpschutter) #14

[quote=“Phil H, post:12, topic:952”]As for The Silent Stranger, it appears less clear.
It is listed in the Dizionario as 1968-1977 and as having either 102 or 90 min lengths. This is very unusual for this book, which usually has definite years of release to the point of listing them for different countries. So to list it as 68-77 suggests some ambiguity to say the least.
However, as I’ve stated before, I am not an italian speaker so it is very possible that this ambiguity is explained in the body of the text. I’m more than happy to post the entire entry in italian if someone (Scherps?) wants to translate it.[/quote]

Of course


(Phil H) #15

Ok, here goes.
As usual, I apologise up front for omition of accents etc.

Terza avventura dello Straniero, girato subito dopo Un Uomo, un cavallo, una pistola, ma uscito in America nel 1975, per un contrasto tra la MGM e il produttore Allan Klein, e da noi solo nel 1977, in versione manipolata dalla produzione. Nel frattempo il coproduttore italiano, Roberto Infascelli, era pure morto per un banalissimo incidente d’auto. L’idea che avevano avuto alla fine degli anni ‘60 Klein e Tony Anthony, era proprio quella di uno spaghetti pop da girare in Giappone. Cerami sostiene di averlo scritto a New York assieme ad Augusto Caminito, e di aver seguito poi il film in Giappone come gagman. Tony Anthony firma il copione in quanto produttore (e lo firma anche, chissa perche, Giancarlo Ferrando, che Cerami ricorda sul set ma non certo come sceneggiatore). Caminito racconta cosi la cosa. <<Il precedente film dello Straniero. che era costato quattro soldi, distribuito in un cineclub in America aveva fatto un successo clamoroso perche era stato scambiato per un film comico. Ci andavano tutti, messicani, cinesi. Cosi Tony Anthony chiese a Luigi Vanzi di occuparsi del film direttamente in America e lui chiamo noi a scriverlo per due mesi a New York. Venimmo un po’ abbandonati a noi stessi, ma ci divertimmo molto. Quando mi chiesero di andare in Giappone a seguire la lavorazione mi defilai e dissi a Vincenzo Cerami di andarci lui. Fu molto contento all’inizio. Poi mi scrisse dal Giappone questo messaggio: “Ti accorgi dell’importanza della tua mano sinistra solo quando te l’hanno tagliata”.>>

In Giappone , i produttori chiedono a Cerami di sostituire per un paio di settimane il regista Luigi Vanzi, che era stata colpito da una terribile dissenteria. E allora, spiega Cerami, che i produttori, vedendo i giornalieri, gli offrono un contratto per un film western da regista e un’opzione per altri due. Contratto che Cerami finira per non accettare, malgrado l’offerta di 200.000 dollari, un po’ perche non si sentiva adatto a fare il regista, un po’ perche non era quello il suo mondo, anche se ammette di aver imparato moltissimo su quel set soprattutto come gagman, ruolo che in Italia non esisteva. Il film, anche se diretto e scritto da italiani, e pero pensato soprattutto per il mercato americano, anche perche era visto proprio come uno spaghetti comico, <> (Cerami). A parte un breve inizio in Klondike e girato interamente in Giappone, dove lo Straniero arriva per consegnare a un nobile, tal maori, una pergamena avuta in punto di morte da un giapponese ucciso dai banditi. In Giappone lo Straniero si dara da fare in un faida tra Maori e suo cugino, che si fa aiutare da un cattivissimo americano. Se il film fosse uscito nel 1968 avrebbe realmente potuto essere il primo a trattare la contaminazione tra spade e pistole. Molto divertente a detta di quasi tutti, con grandi omaggi al cinema orientale, duelli sotto la pioggia alla Kurosawa e follie alla Tony Anthony. Per il produttore-attore, che lo ha dichiarato in un’intervista a Tom Betts, <<quest, lasciatemelo dire, e probabilmente il miglior film che ho fatto. C’era un grande lavoro…Ho fatto solo l’errore di non avere il final cut. Quando e finalmente uscito, soprattutto in Europa, era ridotto a niente>>.


(scherpschutter) #16

The third adventure of the Stranger, filmed immediately after The Stranger Returns, but released in The US in 1975 due to a difference of opinion between MGM and producer Alllan Klein, and in Italy only in 1977 in a version that had been tampered with during post-production. In the meantime the Italian co-producer, Roberto Infaceli, had died in a banal car accident. The idea that occured to Alan Klein and Tony Anthony during the 60s simply was to shoot a sort of spaghetti western in Japan. Cerami says he wrote it in New York together with Augusto Caminito, and to have contributed to the film in Japan as a gagman. Tony Anthony signed in as co-producer (and so did, for who knows what reason, Giancarlo ferrando, who Ciramo has seen on the set indeed).
Caminito says: “The preceding movie of the Stranger, a rather cheap affair, had been a sensational succes when shown in an American cineclub because people thought it was a comedy”. Everybody went to it, Mexicans, Chinese. Therefore Tony Anthony asked Luigi Vanzi to come to America to occupy himself wit the movie and asked us to write the script in two weeks. We felt a little lonely, but had a lot of fun. But when they asked me to go to Japan to continue working on the movie I asked Vicenzo Giramo to go in my place. He was very happy at first. Then he wrote me from Japan this message: “You are only aware of the importance of your left hand after they have cut it off.”

In Japan the producers asked Cerami to give some assistence to director Luigi Vanzi, who had become victim of a terrible dysenteria. And so, Cerami explains, afraid that they had to pay day-labourers over a long period, the producers offered me a contract for the direction of a western and an option for another three. But Cerami refused to accept the contract, even when he was offered 200.000 $, mainly because he didn’t feel at ease in the director’s chair and didn’t like it over there, even though he admits that he had learned much on the set, especially as a gagman, a function that didn’t exist in Italy. The film, written and made by Italians, was aimed in the first place at the American market, the more because it was meant to be a spaghetti comedy in the line of Franchia and Ingrassia parodies, at that moment not the kind of spaghetti popular in Italy (Cerami).

(follows a short description of the movie)

The actor-producer said to Tom Betts in an interview: “this is, let me put it bluntly, probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It was an enormous work … the only mistake I made, was not having the final cut. When the movie was finally released in Europe, not much was left of it.”


(Stanton) #17

So we know not yet if it was released e.g. in Italy earlier than 75.


(Squonkamatic) #18
"You are only aware of the importance of your left hand after they have cut it off."

Hah that’s actually kind of funny, because for the big torture scene the climax is when the nasty samurai chief maims Tony Anthony’s left hand “as something to remember us by”. I also realized that I forgot to quote the total runtime, which is 86 minutes PAL and does not “feel” shortened or cut, so perhaps the 90 minute runtime cited would be correct. The movie is never boring and doesn’t drag and doesn’t have anything in it that seems gratuitous or unnecessary to the story, including the opening scenes where Tony is wandering around the snowy mountains in the Klondike calling out for “PUSSY!!”

I just watched it again and it played out a lot better after a good night’s sleep. The darkness of some of the night scenes is still problematic but I actually don’t have any qualms about it being a fullscreen transfer. Not only do I not own a 16x9 TV yet, but the movie is so incredibly bizarre and obscure that any presentation is a gift. One way to put the $26 cost for the Limited Edition version (which has the best cover design, no debate) is that if one of my hero PAL or Japan VHS sellers on eBay was offering an old battered pre-record of this with all sorts of fallouts and tape wrinkles etc I would have gladly gone upwards to $60 just to have it no matter what the condition, transfer specifics or total runtime of the version being presented. So for $26 it’s a pretty good deal for a funny, violent, offbeat genre movie that as far as I know never existed on home video before, at least in North America.

And it’s also the first of the “Stranger” movies to have a retail coldpressed DVD release, which is of some importance just by itself. The Alfa Digital double feature DVD with the first two movies is serviceable but has “fan project” written all over it (and Alfa is or was a cover front for Fred Frey of Luminous, who does good work and did fans of the series a favor by making the DVD at all & having it coldpressed rather than just a DVD-R). There are some serious scratch marks on the print used during the last 15 minutes or so but frankly I am one of those process buffs who appreciates film for what film is, namely a photomechanical medium that functions by running a spool of exposed frames through a projector that then shines light through the frames to display it. Things like nicks in the print re-enforce the “organic” nature of film so none of that bothers me in the least.

Thanks also for the propz everyone, I usually see a couple hundred DVDs pass through my grasp every week and don’t give a rat’s ass about most of them. But THIS was actually a DVD I was excited about and am delighted to have shared some of that enthusiasm with people who not only aren’t making fun of the movie but know what it is, who made it, and why it’s special.


(scherpschutter) #19

According to this man: no

I translated the Italian ‘solo’ by ‘only’, but another possibility, in this case, would have been 'not earlier as’
like I said before, there hardly anything to be found on this movie on the Net in Italian
The Database doesn’t mention it, writer Camasio doesn’t mention it

It’s a strange affair; I even find some of the stories the dizionario writer has collected rather odd.
Since Tom Betts (even mentioned in the article) knows Tony Anthony he maybe can clarify a few things


(Squonkamatic) #20

That’d be great, I wonder if Mr. Anthony even knows the DVD exists.

I am slowly becoming addicted to this movie (the music score with the twanging jaw harp is absolutely perfect), just started it again and realize that there is one place where a significant amount of time MAY be missing, and that’s right at the beginning. Anthony is out wandering the Klondike looking for Pussy and I finds her (at least I think Pussy is a her) standing by a cabin. We see it with Pussy standing there in long shot and then there’s an immediate cut to inside of the cabin where a trio of roughnecks are in the process of roughing up this Asian looking fellow over a “scroll”. There is an abrupt flash of violence, the guy is shot, and then Tony Anthony appears out of nowhere. He ropes up the trio, the dying man gives him a small thumb sized scroll written in Japanese that is the film’s Macguffin, and then the movie starts proper.

All of that happens in a span of maybe three or four minutes so whatever exposition there was specifically explaining why the Stranger is wandering the Klondike, why Pussy is waiting at this cabin/shack and why these three ruffians are trying to get some funny little scroll of parchment from the Asian guy is never explained. I even am assuming that the opening is set in the Klondike based on an IMDb user comment: Tony Anthony never specifically states WHERE he is or why he and Pussy got separated, so there could be some important exposition missing here but since there’s no “control sample” of the movie to compare it with I can’t say for sure.

But in above comments I stated that “nothing feels shortened or missing” and that’s incorrect: The beginning 4 minutes or so do feel like they may have been condensed down from a longer pre-credits sequence that might have been trimmed for impatient American and German audiences, who were also probably grateful of the unnecessary voiceover narration explaining what they could see with their own eyes if they were paying attention to the movie.

I also now have my favorite line from the movie, which is a little ribald song that Tony sings to himself at one point … “My uncle’s a missionary, he saves pretty young women from sin, he’ll save you a blond for $5 dollars, oh see how the money rolls in …” ;D