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Monday, February 18

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An Albuquerque, New Mexico, transplant, Brian Chankan holds a degree in photography from the University of New Mexico and had been running an antique store in Chicago for two years before deciding to "just do my own thing that I like. And this is what I've been into for eight years," Chankan explains. "I've been collecting movies." A mere six months later, Chankan's movie shopping spree has come to an end and the Odd Obsession library is open to the public today.

Odd Obsession, which was named after the 1960 film by Kon Ichikawa (Tokyo Olympiad), specializes in rare, independent, unreleased, camp classic, Italian horror, French New Wave, Tokyo shock, cult, experimental, Criterion Collection, film noir, gay/lesbian, documentary and '60s/'70s exploitation films -- including a few bootlegs and a lot of foreign imports, even of some American films. Many of their films, such as the Criterion Collection and the more familiar French New Wave films, are available elsewhere, of course, like that Golden Standard of indie video stores in Chicago, Facets. But a quick walk through Odd Obsession yielded several films that Facets either doesn't carry on DVD, such as Sanshiro Sugata, or simply doesn't carry at all, such as Impulse, both of which I review below.

While Odd Obsession has an awful lot of schlock horror and exploitation flicks for the underserved masses who dig those kinds of movies, movie snobs (and I include myself here, to some extent) shouldn't think for a second that all of their hard-to-find titles have been justly forgotten on grounds of good taste. I actually gasped when I spotted their copy of Nightmare Alley, a Tyrone Power film noir classic that the star himself considered his best film, and which my father has been trying to find for years (guess what you're getting for your birthday, Dad). Also, I've been trying to track down the 1992 Bill Couturié documentary Earth and the American Dream for nearly eight years, to see if it was really as mind-blowing as my young mind thought when I first caught the tail end of it on HBO. I could rattle on about the long list of movies I need to rent from there, but I would rather you head down to Odd Obsession yourself to check out what cinematic gems the store has hidden in its shelves.

Odd Obsession is located at 1659 N. Halsted, just north of the North & Clybourn Red Line station. Movie rentals are $3 each for three nights for most films (i.e., movies checked out on Wednesday are due back on Saturday), or $2 for some "Hollywood-ish" movies. On Tuesdays, movies will be three movies for three nights at $5. Join their mailing list by e-mailing brianoddobsessioncom with your name and address to be notified of upcoming events, which will include free in-store screenings on Tuesdays, beginning next month.

Impulse
2 of 5 stars
Directed by William Grefe.
Starring William Shatner, Ruth Roman, Jennifer Bishop, Kim Nicholas and Harold Sakata.

Impulse is a 1974 exploitation film starring William Shatner as Matt Stone, a womanizing con artist with a few screws loose and a habit of biting his fingernails when he's freaking out. Traumatized in his youth by an incident where he ran his mother's lover through with a samurai sword to protect her (yes, you read that right), Matt has also developed a bad habit of killing people. Underwritten, overacted, and with almost no direction at all, Impulse mostly sticks to the "bad" area of the film spectrum, occasionally crossing over into the "so bad it's good" zone when Shatner grabs the spotlight, such as in one random explosion at a woman who bumps into him at a park: "Hey, watch it! What do you think you do, own the place? You fat ... People like you ought to be ground up ... Made into dog food!" (Read it aloud in your worst Shatner impression, and you'll think it's funnier. Trust me.)

Make no mistake, Impulse is undeniably terrible, but Shatner's performance made me laugh out loud more often than I've just snickered at some movies that tried to be funny, which counts for something, if not very much. When the Once and Future Kirk isn't on-screen, the movie's complete ineptitude occasionally makes for entertainment as well, such as in one scene in which we see tears fall onto a gravestone and pull back to see Tina (Kim Nicholas), the daughter of Matt's girlfriend Ann (Jennifer Bishop), crying -- nearly three feet away from it.

In all movies like this (bad ones, that is), murder seems to be awfully easy to get away with -- as if forensic science hadn't been invented yet -- but when terrible screenwriters try to be arty, they often inadvertently turn their work into comic gold, such as in this exchange between Matt and "Karate Pete," played by Harold Sakata (Oddjob from Goldfinger):

Karate Pete: "Another headache? Have you been going to a doctor?"

Matt: "They ... they never listen to me."

Karate Pete: "Yeah? I know. Yeah."

Matt: "You know ... it killed my mother when they put me in that place."

Karate Pete: "Yeah? Yeah."

Matt: "They took care of me there, though. I was OK. I begged them not to let me out. I said ... it was like putting a puppy dog out in the middle of the road and leaving it there."

You see, the "puppy dog" reference is an apparent attempt at establishing a motif by the screenwriter, Tony Crechales (the pen behind such classics as Blood Mania and So Evil, My Sister). Earlier in the film, Matt had accidentally driven over a dog that was out in the middle of the road and left it there to die. As you can imagine, I often wondered if this movie was simply too deep for me to fully understand. But the finale, in which Tina protects her mother by running Matt through with a conveniently located samurai sword, dispelled that entirely.

Impulse is available on DVD from Odd Obsession. No other video rental source I know of carries it, including Facets -- probably because it's terrible. Like some of Odd Obsession's rarest films, including Nightmare Alley, Odd Obsession's copy of Impulse is from 5 Minutes to Live, an Atlanta company that specializes in films that are "lost to the public." Sources for these films include TV broadcasts, film-to-video transfers and foreign imports, so the picture and sound quality will vary, but while the Nightmare Alley and Impulse discs aren't pristine by any means, the unavoidable fact is they're the only edition of the films available.

Sanshiro Sugata (Judo Saga)
movie: 4 of 5 stars | DVD: 2 of 5 stars
Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Starring Susumu Fujita, Denjiro Okochi, Yukiko Todoroki, Ryunosuke Tsukigata, Takashi Shimura and Ichirô Sugai.

Akira Kurosawa's first film, 1943's Sanshiro Sugata, or Judo Saga as it is more widely known in the States, has never been released in the US on DVD, but Odd Obsession has a Hong Kong import edition available for rent (it's perfectly legal, if you're concerned about that sort of thing). Set in the late nineteenth century, the film revolves around Saam Chee/Sanshiro Sugata (Susumu Fujita), a young man who has come to the city to join a jujitsu school ("stream"), but on his first night with them, he witnesses their entire school get tossed into a river by a judo master named Yano (Denjiro Okochi), whom Sanshiro immediately joins. A competition is held by the city's police to decide which school its police force will study under, Sanshiro is chosen to compete on behalf of the judo school, bringing him in conflict with Higaki (Ryunosuke Tsukigata), a slick, Western-dressing jujitsu student. At the same time, the two opponents both want the same girl, Sayo (Yukiko Todoroki), the daughter of Murai (Kurosawa mainstay Takashi Shimura ), the master of the jujitsu school. Of course.

The picture quality is decent for an unrestored film of its age, thought occasionally a bit dark, and the sound quality is about the same. This is no Criterion Collection edition, though, unlike the copy I reviewed of Stray Dog last month, so I expected worse. While the video and sound are good enough, unfortunately, as is occasionally the case with imports, the translation is wretched, even outright incomprehensible at times. Also bizarre is that the names have all been changed for the subtitles -- Sanshiro Sugata is renamed "Saam Chee," for instance, while Sayo becomes "Siu" and Murai becomes "Chuen." I suspect that the English dialogue is a translation of the Chinese translation of the original Japanese, which would account for the Babel fish-like quality. Still, the names of the characters are unimportant, and the acting is strong enough that you can follow the story well enough anyway. As you might have guessed from the alternate title alone, Judo Saga is similar in plot to any number of "my kung fu is better than your kung fu" films, so following along isn't all that hard.

While the fight choreography and (limited) stunt work hasn't aged well at all, the ideas behind these scenes are still strong, provided you can think more about what the filmmakers were attempting to do than how the shots actually appear. Kurosawa's visuals, however, hold up quite well, even compared to his later work. Before getting into film, Kurosawa had been a painter, and it shows in his artfully framed shots, as if the silver screen were a moving canvas. It is surprising how well formed -- if not fully formed -- Kurosawa's style was in his film debut. Any fan of Kurosawa should find Sanshiro Sugata rewarding all the same, even when compared with the filmmaker's later masterpieces.

Sanshiro Sugata is available on DVD at Odd Obsession, but only on VHS at Facets. You can also purchase it from HKFlix.com or have Odd Obsession special order it for you. Those interested in owning the film should wait for a restored edition with a decent translation -- although Criterion has numerous more important Kurosawa films to get to first, so that could be quite some time (if ever). All the more reason to thank Odd Obsession for carrying this film on DVD in the first place.

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About the Author(s)

Gordon McAlpin writes his movie reviews with a red light-up Spy Kids pen, which he thinks is the coolest thing ever, even though he didnít like the movie that much.

If you feel the need to get in touch with him directly, instead of using the comments below, do so at .

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