Times Staff Writer

In the past, the arrival of a film like “Sure Death 3” (Little Tokyo Cinema I) would have been routine, but nowadays the opening of a new Japanese period picture is an occasion, for the genre is almost--but happily not quite--as dead as the Western.

“Sure Death 3” is satisfyingly familiar, well done, good-looking and timeless in its appeal to aficionados.

As the title suggests, Makoto Fujita’s Mondo Nakamura, intrepid policeman in the Edo (Tokyo) of 1820, is back for the third time. Mondo’s a little like Peter Falk’s Columbo--middle-aged, ordinary looking and much sharper than he seems. He’s got a shrew for a wife, poor fellow, and a mother-in-law to egg her on, which makes him understandably but dangerously vulnerable to attractive women.


When a colleague is murdered, Mondo investigates and is plunged into the greedy and lethal world of moneylenders. Indeed, the script (by various hands) suggests a universe so totally corrupt that money means everything to practically everybody--much more than human lives.

Typically, the plot is terrifically convoluted, but as usual, don’t worry about that. Just keep track of Mondo and everything will add up at the climax, which this time is capped by a great duel between the hero, abetted by the members of his secret vigilante group, and the film’s many bad guys.

Director Eiichi Kudo is to be admired for his respect for the conventions of the genre, coupled with the kind of conviction that makes the ritual triumph of good over evil still rewarding. The actors throw themselves into their roles with the full-bodied passion of performers in TV serials. “Sure Death 3” (Times-rated Mature for standard samurai violence) has lots of handsome--though obviously artificial--sets that gleam in richly hued Panavision.

Neither stylized nor deeply personal, “Sure Death 3” is by no means an art film but a traditional Japanese entertainment that over the decades has evolved into a popular art form in itself.

Also opening in the Cinema II is a revival of the 1978 “Yellow Handkerchief,” a nice, sentimental film directed by the Tora-sans’ Yoji Yamada and based on the same Readers Digest short story by Pete Hamill that inspired the popular song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree.” Ken Takakura stars.

‘SURE DEATH 3’ A Shochiku release of a co-production of Shochiku Co. Ltd., Asahi Broadcasting Corp. and Kyoto Eiga Co. Ltd. Executive producers Hisashi Yamanouchi, Katsuyuki Sakurai. Director Eiichi Kudo. Screenplay Tatsuo Nogami, Yoshinori Hori, Katsuyuki Namakura. Camera Ko Ishihara. Music Masaaki Hirao. Art director Seiichi Ota. With Makoto Fujita, Keiko Matsuzaka, Mikio Narita, Masato Ibu, Kazuhiko Mitamura, Izumi Ayukawa, Masaki Kyomoto, Hiroaki Murakami, Mari Shiraki, Kin Sugai. In Japanese, with English subtitles.


Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes.

Times-rated: Mature.