Document type
28 February 2010
Format viewed
King Records

Hairpin Circus

picture: Hairpin Circus (1972)picture: Hairpin Circus (1972)

Original title
Heapin Sakusu
  • Kiyoshi MISAKI
  • Yuko ENATSU
  • Yuko ASHIBE
  • Goro MUTSUMI
Running time
84 mins.

picture: Hairpin Circus (1972)

Tom Mes

Released by Toho in 1972 and produced by Tokyo Eiga, the same outfit behind the Lady Snowblood films and Kinji Fukasaku's masterful war drama Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, Hairpin Circus is a forgotten gem. Made at a time when Japanese car companies were becoming major players on the world stage and churning out their own revisions of Detroit muscle cars, this may well be the ultimate Japanese car movie, the Asian Vanishing Point.

Shimao is a former racecar champion who retired after winning the GP of Macao, during which the only other Japanese driver taking part perished in a brutal crash. Shimao now leads a calm domestic life with a pretty wife and a newborn baby and makes a living as a driving instructor. He encounters a group of young joyriders - the kind of amoral, hedonistic youth that have populated popular Japanese cinema since the Sun Tribe days - led by a feisty girl in a Toyota 2000GT, who race each other across the expressways and docklands of Tokyo.

Bored by his bourgeois life and his hopeless students, Shimao can't help but envy these reckless young rascals and starts to miss the speed and thrill of racing. The girl taunts him every chance she gets and finally convinces him to strap himself into the passenger seat and relive the past. This he does indeed, when an innocent driver is pushed off the road in a hairpin and crashes into a concrete wall. When Shimao reads in the paper the following day that the innocent driver died in the crash, he decides to take action and climbs behind the wheel again to beat the speed tribe at their own game.

Hairpin Circus is sparse on plot and even sparser on dialogue, but heavy on car action. Lengthy car races and chases make up the bulk of the film's 84-minute running time, while a Masaaki Kikuchi jazz score vies for aural dominance with an unrelenting chorus of revving engines. The result is quite hypnotic, an almost abstract, purely kinetic form of action cinema with a finale that verges on oneiric as Shimao and the girl, chasing each other through the nighttime city streets, seem to literally get high on speed.

Ripe for rediscovery, Hairpin Circus is quite a ride indeed.


Hairpin Circus

picture: DVD cover of 'Hairpin Circus'
King Records (Japan)

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