A spoiler-free review of an unusual, atmospheric and little-known Japanese thriller.
Death. It’s in the title. The official English name of this unusual Japanese suspense movie is ‘Deaths in Tokimeki’. Tokimeki refers to the heart pounding (for example with excitement) and is often left untranslated. In a similar vain to Et Mourir de Plaisir (1960), Tokimeki ni shisu is an intriguing title for an equally intriguing cult film. Who is going to die?
The idyllic countryside setting of Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, complimented by a calming musical score, makes it hard to imagine at first how violence and death will occur in this film. Kudo (Kenji Sawada, The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979)) arrives at a small local train station (the now defunct Oshima station), where a doctor (Naoki Sugiura) meets him.
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Can an ex-yakuza just released from jail rebuild his life or will he be drawn back into underworld conflicts by a reckless and mysterious young woman?
New wave director Masahiro Shinoda’s breakout film is this crisp, black-and-white noirish adaption of Shintaro Ishihara’s novel. It begins with Murata (Ryo Ikebe), a yakuza who has just come out of prison for killing a man. He becomes attracted to the angelic, innocent looking Saeko (Mariko Kaga), who is hooked on gambling with hanafusa cards.
Read more about Pale Flower (Japan,1964) …
Action scene analysis
Yusaku Matsuda stars as Tetsuya Asakura, a seemingly mild mannered clerk at a large oil company. However, by night he is a tough, proficient gunman out to get back at his employers. The viewer follows Asakura’s increasingly wild and violent plans- from stealing the company’s money (and turning it into heroin!) to dramatic encounters with the yakuza. In many ways, Yomigaeru Kinrou (The Resurrection of the Golden Wolf) is a typical 70s violent anti-hero movie with a slightly convoluted plot. However, some particularly interestingly filmed scenes make it worth a look.
There is a dynamic scene midway through the film- in which Yusaku Matsuda’s character is sneaking through some ruins near the ocean in order to pick off some yakuza underlings before meeting the boss. It provides an excellent example of how a fusion of clever camera work, choreography and sound design can produce a gripping and gritty, yet slick and stylish action scene.
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Flamboyant singer Kenji Sawada playing a reclusive atom bomb-building, junior high school teacher? Bunta Sugawara, famous for his tough Yakuza portrayals, playing a hardboiled cop? Kimiko Ikegami (the pretty one in cult horror classic Hausu (1977)) playing a vacuous radio DJ? A big budget Toho ‘action’ film with art-house elements directed by independent Kazuhiko Hasegawa? An original screenplay written by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Taxi Driver’s screenwriter? Just from its components, it is clear that you are in for no ordinary film with Taiyo wo nusunda otoko!
Main character Makoto Kido is a seemingly lazy, gum-chewing sleepy science teacher. Ridiculed by his students- he is somewhat socially awkward and lonely, living in a small apartment with only his ill-fated cat for company. The script and Sawada’s excellent portrayal gradually reveal snapshots of his true nature to the viewer.
Read more about The Man who Stole the Sun (Japan, 1979) …
Chijin no Ai (知人の愛) is based on the 1924 novel of the same name by renowned author Junichiro Tanizaki. It is one of several adaptions of Tanizaki stories dealing with unorthodox relationships and sexual obsession that were directed by Yasuzo Masumura in the 1960s and 1970s. Two other notable examples are Manji (卍, 1964) and Irezumi (刺青, 1966).
The film’s story takes place in a contemporary setting, like Masumura’s adaption of Manji. This is clear from the very first frames, which show a power station that is definitely postwar and not from the 1920s. The course of the story in its new time frame spans from 1966 to 1967- with fashions and cars to match. The crisp, warm colour of the print brings out the bold colours of Naomi’s psychedelic wardrobe.
It starts by introducing Joji Kawai (Shoichi Ozawa)- a quiet, serious and bespectacled middle-aged electrical engineer. His boss berates him for never joining the employees’ social activities, nor showing interest in getting married. After some prodding he admits that he did get a pet cat.
When he gets home that evening, he starts looking for his pet. The cat turns out to be a girl called Naomi.
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Japanese New Wave cinema of the 60s and 70s was a rebellion against established styles of filmmaking. Major Japanese film studios began to promote young assistant directors to helm their own features- about young people and aimed at the youth market. These directors would deliver a kick of creative revitalisation into Japanese cinema. They would tackle challenging themes- sexuality, political radicalism, social inequality- all against the background of Japan’s postwar identity struggle.
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An effortlessly stylish, twisty and entertaining gothic suspense. This kitsch avant-garde masterpiece from Japanese auteur Kinji Fukasaku, starring female impersonator Akihiro Miwa, has to be seen to be believed!
Read more about Black Lizard (1968, Japan) …