Director: Motomu Ida
Starring: Akira Kobayashi, Hideki Takahashi, Ryoji Hayama, Kazuo Kitamura, Katsue Takaishi
Former boxer, and recipient of some bad cards in his life, Yabuki (Akira Kobayashi) is conscripted into government service to put his skills to good use. Tasked with recovering a cache of valuable gemstones, he finds his job complicated by multiple parties interested in the very same bounty. From gangsters to corrupt businessmen, Yabuki will need all his skills to complete his mission; but when a former agent, turned mercenary (Hideki Takahashi) appears with his own agenda, will Yabuki have finally met his match?
Director Motomu Ida delivers a crime with action at a breakneck pace; ideas and plot twists come at seemingly every transition. Although not as extreme as say JAC films, the film does have a decided edge to it that seems to have targeted towards youthful filmgoers. The glamorization of crime and violence in the film doesn’t ever really happen and the film, surprisingly so, also has a slight thematic message of caution.
Kobayashi rules in this picture; he’s cool, dangerous, and he jumps into danger at a moment’s’ notice. Not one to shirk, Kobayashi’s Yabuki is a fine lead that makes him easy to root for, not unlike James Bond for a somewhat general Western film analogue. Hideki Takahashi actually very nearly steals the show as Yamawaki, the former agent turned rival. He’s a dangerous man and while at first seemingly all in for the money, his motivations become clearer and he becomes much more sympathetic. The cast is rounded out by a number of character actors; the stunningly beautiful Katsue Takaishi, and the deviously planning Kazuo Kitamura and HIroshi Nawa among others.
The film carries with it a number of action sequences which vary from a stealth break-in and bullet dodging escape to a carefully choreographed warehouse fight between former comrades in arms early on in the film. The final act has a hugely memorable last stand of sorts that features helicopters, explosions, minefields, and gunfights in tight corridors. It’s the sort of thing that gets the adrenaline pumping and is a major reason for why I love this period and genre of filmmaking. Never boring, the movie delivers the action in spades.
An action packed thrill ride, 3 Seconds Before Explosion typifies the type of adventurous filmmaking that would cement Nikkatsu Films as a powerhouse of action cinema from the 60s through to today. With colorful characters, edgy action, and the kind of unexpectedness you can only expect from Japanese cinema, this is a film that falls through too many fans’ awareness to be fair. More than worth a watch, it may be a must see for Japanese film lovers and fans of crime cinema alike.