2 September 2013 | m-sendey
It fails to assert its significance
A young Afro-American soldier (Hugh Hurd) is imprisoned by some villagers in a miniscule, mountainous village somewhere nearby Tokyo. The peasants are constrained to feed and take care of the foreigner on account of prefecture's orders. At the onset, the prisoner has to endure some minor humiliations, but soon the captors begin to subject him to other forms of repression
This relatively engaging war drama by Nagisa Ôshima is quite politically intransigent and ambitious, but suffers from hardly eupeptic narrative structure and disorientating manner of filming which occasionally renders the occurrences on the screen somewhat incomprehensible. Nevertheless, the resonance of Ôshima's opus is indubitably munificent and the very concept of commenting on Japanese imperialism, racism and hypocrisy of Japanese society conjures up a highly riveting yarn to analyse. The conspectus of the flick indicates that the theme is analogous to the one tackled in Ôshima's Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983) i.e. the clash of the two cultures, yet the character of the aforementioned Negro American soldier remains in the background and Ôshima never intends to delve in his past, experiences and his perception of the reality in which he is temporarily forced to vegetate, but to plunge in the Japanese mentality. To illustrate the issue, Ôshima exhibits the war from the perspective of a province. Precisely like in case of Ôshima's The Sun's Burial (1960) in which the inhabitants of slums constitute the omnibus main hero, the material revolves around the villagers. The majority of the collective treats the soldier like an object, not like a human being only owing to the fact that he is black. One of the main principles of rural existence is to live in an economical way, thus the arrival of the foreigner becomes an additional burden – a burden which peasants are eager to get rid of and the fact that the overseas visitor is black exerts an incendiary impact on their attitude towards him. Apart from this phenomenon, the film alludes to the dereliction of women in Japanese society in which they had the inferior position to males who took advantage of this privilege with a view to indulging themselves.
Rentarô Mikuni prosperously plays his role of a slavishly obedient bureaucrat who being apprehensive of hazardous consequences, prevents the soldier from being murdered. Hugh Hurd is probably a decent performer, but he never gets the opportunity to expose his acting skills, he just stands and observes everything transpiring around him. There are likewise generally dexterous performances, particularly from Kyû Sazanka, Toshirô Ishidô and Sadako Sawamura.
The cinematography by Yoshitsugu Tonegawa remains rather unremarkable throughout the entire motion picture, although there are several beauteously perpetuated instants such as the ending which is propitiously adorned with some deliberate tracking shots which are as slow as the final funeral parade and endow the ensemble with even more sepulchral tone. Notwithstanding, the visual aspect of the flick is sporadically extortionately sophisticated. At one point, there is a fight sequence whose upshot one conceives in the successive scene, despite the fact that the movie endeavours to display the outcome. Two men struggle with each other and subsequently, we behold a human lying at the foot of a slope on which they were combating. The way it is captured by camera suffuses the moment with equivocality as it indicates that it might be somebody else. Be that as it may, it looks awkward and somewhat baffling. The orchestral score by Riichirô Manabe is everything but something memorable. It is reminiscent of other countless soundtracks from numerous war dramas made in Japan. At least one does not take any notice of it, hence it never feels exasperating.
Whilst some fans of Japanese cinema will undoubtedly disclose something to relish with, The Catch by Ôshima cannot pride itself on being flawless as it fails to assert its significance owing to its narrative irregularity, lack of visual fluency and cinematic intensity which may be discerned in his other opuses e.g. Cruel Story of Youth (1960) and The Sun's Burial (1960), nonetheless, the script implicates a sufficient portion of historical context to infuse some flamboyancy into the unequal content.