Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Big Time Gambling Boss from Radiance Films.
As a disclaimer of transparency, my article for Big Time Gambling Boss comes from a review copy provided for this episode of Feature Presentations. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Arrow Video is one of the boutique labels in physical media. For many years, the British distributor has produced many beloved DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K releases in Europe and abroad. They’ve been in the business for a while and have built up a loyal fanbase, myself included. Last year, Fran Simeoni, the Director of Content with Arrow Video, announced his departure and a forthcoming label he would direct. Knowing the quality of features and packaging associated with Arrow, I was sad about his departure yet intrigued with what he had in store.
I followed his and Radiance Films’—his distribution company—social media accounts, wanting to take this journey with him. Starting a company takes time, so after months of waiting, the announcement of UK and US titles finally hit. As I’m located in the United States, even though I’m region-free, I waited to see what the first title would be. What I love about Arrow Video and Radiance Films so far are the choices to go against the grain with releases. There are the occasional mainstream movies, but more often than not, you find a crop of titles unknown to the masses. And with the first United States release, Big Time Gambling Boss, that trend continues.
And I’m thankful for that.
I’ve heard of Big Time Gambling Boss throughout my life, but it’s never been a movie I’ve sought out. Hearing that this would be the first United States release from Radiance Films, I was excited to check out a new title (for me) and how Radiance Films would leave its mark within the physical media landscape. I’m not as well-versed in Asian cinema as I should be, so this seemed the perfect time to dip into such a genre.
Set in Japan in 1934, Big Time Gambling Boss tells the tale of a change in leadership within a clan. As the gang’s leader is stricken down, the vote for a successor causes a divide amongst the members. Nakai is the proposed choice but declines the offer, suggesting the currently-incarcerated Matsuda should ascend to the leadership role as he will be released soon. When Matsuda emerges from prison, the idea that neither Nakai nor himself assumes the leadership position causes a rift within the faction.
I’m a sucker for a good crime film, and this filled that need and then some. The movie wastes no time in getting to the dense plotting and never lets go. Anchored by Kōji Tsuruta’s wonderfully conflicted turn as Nakai, expert direction from Kôsaku Yamashita and a tight script by Kazuo Kasahara, Big Time Gambling Boss is a masterpiece of cinematic action and layered character work. I’m disappointed in myself that it took so long to see the film, but I’m glad Radiance Films assisted in correcting my cinematic transgressions.
The package comes in a case with the option for reversible artwork featuring the Asian marketing design and a typical back page that features the plot summary and features listing. I prefer the original, more simplistic black and white art featuring Radiance chose. It is welcome that the option is there for those seeking a more theatrical design.
The release comes with a 26-page booklet containing two essays: “Shogun’s Reign” by Stuart Galbraith IV and “The Stars” by Hayley Scanlon. Both discussions help flesh out the cinematic history between the film’s stars, director, and country. “Shogun’s Reign” digs into the life and career of director Kôsaku Yamashita, discussing his politics, entering film school, and his directorial output. “The Stars,” as one might expect, is an essay dedicated to the film’s actors. Kôji Tsuruta, Tomisaburô Wakayama, and Nobuo Kaneko are each given a moment to shine by Scanlon. The writer discusses each actor’s history and career in front of the camera. Both essays do what they should and make for an engaging read for those looking to have more of an understanding of Japanese cinema, like myself.
On the features side of this release, Radiance goes for the less is more approach. The disc includes a 15-minute video essay by author Mark Schilling discussing the history and impact of the classical style of the Yakuza. Schilling makes the most of the feature’s runtime as he jots through the Japanese film history of “Chivalry Films.” As someone who doesn’t know much about the history of Japanese films, this quick and thorough breakdown assisted in understanding how Yakuza films have evolved over the years.
The other feature on the disc, “Serial Gambling,” is a video essay by author Chris D., looking at the origins of Big Time Gambling Boss within Toei Studios. Here’s another feature that works well for someone with scant knowledge of Japanese cinema. The narrator walks through the handful of films under this studio dealing with a gambling den. Chris narrates through the series of movies and how they compare to Big Time Gambling Boss. There’s plenty of detail here, my favorite coming in the feature’s final minutes as the narrator discusses a loose remake of Big Time Gambling Boss, Greatest Post-War Gambler. There are notes on similarities and, more importantly, the differences between the films.
The disc closes with a gallery of 13 production stills and the film’s theatrical trailer.
And there you have it! While Big Time Gambling Boss may not be overstuffed with supplemental material, as a launch title for a new label, there’s just enough to satisfy the film’s fans and those looking to expand their cinematic options. It’s about quality, not quantity. I commend Fran Simeoni and his team at Radiance Films for such a solid release, and I can’t wait to see what he and his team have in store for the future!