In the wake of a billion yen heist, sharp-suited, smooth talking 'Glass-Hearted' Jô (Jô Shishido), so nicknamed because the sound of screeching glass reduces him to hysterical fits, spies a chance to get rich quick. Yet his attempt to spirit elderly expert counterfeiter Mr. Sakamoto (Hidari Bokuzen), from a powerful yakuza gang goes awry when rival criminals 'Slide Rule' Tetsu and 'Dump Truck' Ken hit on the same plan. Thereafter our three bumbling anti-heroes stumble into one spectacular mess after another, feuding and double-crossing each other every step of the way. Meanwhile the mob stash Sakamoto in a basement at Club Acapulco so the old lech can crank out counterfeit bills while enjoying the sight of scantily-clad showgirls doing the splits on the glass floor above. After somehow landing a feisty judo girl sidekick (Ruriko Asaoka), Jô strikes an alliance with his rivals as the four friends attempt to outwit the yakuza and make off with the loot.
Released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Arrow Video as part of the Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Volume II, Danger Pays makes up a terrific trifecta alongside the equally colourful and fun Tokyo Mighty Guy (1960) and Murder Unincorporated (1965). These fast-paced romps hail from when Nikkatsu were famed as the studio behind slick and glamorous pop action films rather than the purveyors of glossy porn pictures they became from the Seventies onward. Cult film fans weaned on the gritty, visceral Japanese crime thrillers produced by the likes of Kinji Fukasaku have been known to recoil in disgust from Danger Pays which, despite its many lively action set-pieces and almost gleefully gory violence, is a very different beast. Although the plot has some of the hard-boiled edge of a crime caper in the mould of early Don Siegel or Sam Fuller, the playful, downright zany antics that unfold pitch things much closer to screwball comedy.
Those not terminally wedded to the notion of Japanese action cinema as grim, gritty and defiantly downbeat and willing to play along will find Danger Pays uproarious fun. Made at the height of Nikkatsu's powers as a studio the production oozes style with impeccable colour-coded set designs and wardrobe (check out Jô's purple suit and natty hat). Screwball comedies stand or fall on the strength of their gags. Here the dialogue crackles with wit that prompts the excellent ensemble cast to attack their roles with manic energy. Shishido's wily yet frequently flummoxed anti-hero is amusingly at odds with his popular image in the west, via Seijun Suzuki's films (especially Branded to Kill (1967)), as the brooding, unhinged assassin. Indeed 'Glass-Hearted' Jô is not far removed from the sort of affable rogues Hollywood star James Garner made his stock in trade. Equally the talented, near-chameleonic Ruriko Asaoka essays a lovably feisty and funny heroine that belies the popular western notion of Japanese women as docile and colourless.
As directed by versatile studio hand Koh Nakahira, Danger Pays zips along at lightning speed as characters crack wise, scheme, double-cross and flip like popcorn in a pressure cooker. Each prove memorable, quirky or plain eccentric in a lovable way in their own right while the plot often veers off on hilarious tangents. For example the film devotes a long segment to the yakuza trailing Tomoko's car before gawping in bemusement when she gets into an impromptu judo battle with a lecherous truck driver! In the midst of the comedy Nakahira includes genuinely suspenseful episodes, such as the heroes' attempt to escape a room filled with gas, a shootout in an elevator shaft and the surprisingly gory finale, then caps things off with a perfectly ironic ending. Although Nakahira died prematurely at the age of 52 in 1978 he had prolific and varied career. He debuted with delinquent youth drama Crazed Fruit (1956) which earned a rave review from a young François Truffaut. Alongside his Nikkatsu work, Nakahira later joined the small group of Japanese filmmakers that directed a handful of Hong Kong films for the Shaw Brothers studio. Working under a Chinese pseudonym he made campy spy romp Interpol (1967), melodramas Trapeze Girl (1967) and Summer Heat (1968), the latter a remake of his acclaimed Japanese youth drama, and the Hitchcockian thriller Diary of a Ladykiller (1969).