Long before streaming services became the platform of choice for gritty genre fare, there was V-Cinema. First coined by movie company Toei, it became a catch-all term for the straight-to-video films that flourished in Japan during the 1990s, and continue to lurk in the deepest recesses of Amazon Prime.
Made on tight budgets and even tighter schedules, V-Cinema productions depicted a netherworld of gangsters and gamblers, where life — like the films themselves — tended to be nasty, brutish and short. The industry provided a training ground for directors such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike, while it also had its own stars, notably Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi.
One of its most dependable stalwarts has been Hitoshi Ozawa, whose extensive catalog of tough-guy flicks — including around 200 V-Cinema titles, plus nearly a hundred more that actually got a theatrical release — has allowed him to flex his muscles both in front of and behind the camera.
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