Umetsugu Inoue’s first film with Yujiro Ishihara, The Winner tells the story of a punk kid (Ishihara) who tries boxing as a lark, gets the tar punched out of him, and starts training for real. His manager is a former contender who sees the punk as way to realize a championship dream that he himself could never fulfill.
Inspired by the 1948 classic The Red Shoes, Inoue added a subplot about an up-and-coming ballerina (Mie Kitahara) who falls in love with the boxer. Her graceful solo dance, presented in a thirteen-minute cut, with a young Akira Kobayashi as a transfixed spectator is one of the film’s highlights.
Another high point is the climatic fight scene that Inoue filmed with more than two hundred cuts over four days. To save time and money, he shot the entire scene from one side, changing the colors of the two corners to create the illusion that the action was unfolding in 360 degrees. Ishihara’s opponent was a former champion boxer, but Ishihara, blessed with athletic ability and quick hands, gave as good as he got.
The Winner lived up to its name at the box office and proved, to Inoue’s satisfaction at least, that Ishihara could carry a film. (The studio bosses would need a bit more convincing.) It also established the template—action with musical interludes—for dozens of Nikkatsu films to come. Description adapted from Mark Schilling in Asia Sings! A Survey of Asian Musical Films. (Dir.: Umetsugu Inoue, Japan, 1957, 98 min., DCP, Japanese with English subtitles)
Image © 1957 Nikkatsu