29 November 2010 | jgcole
Japanese Film Noir
Upon his release from prison for killing a rival mobster, Muraki strolls the streets of Tokyo and muses that nothing has changed in three years and that people are little more than half dead stupid animals whose lives are meaningless. In voice-over he asks "What was so wrong with killing one of them?" While he was away the two Tokyo gangs have reached a truce in order to eliminate a third gang from Osaka. Muraki is unsure of his role in the new alliance and places little value in the yakuza (gangster) code. He is a lone wolf who, while a dependable team player, is a risk taker who takes action on his own and finds consolation from his weary existence in the Tokyo nights and its' gambling dens.
Saeko is a well dressed, beautiful young woman with lots of cash and, like Muraki, is a creature of the night. They meet at a card game where Saeko recklessly wagers, loses and wants more. A woman in such a place is an oddity and all the players are fascinated by her, including Muraki. When she asks Muraki if he knows of a game where the stakes are higher he knows that he has found what he was looking for. The two are immediately drawn to one another and their fates are sealed. Together they combat the boredom of life with high stakes gambling, high speed joy rides (she drives) and other thrills that come with living on the edge. They agree that whatever they do, they can forgive themselves. "I have no use for the dawn. I adore these evil nights," says Saeko. A truer noir couple there never was. But when Saeko becomes drawn to another mid level yakuza – the half-Chinese junkie Yoh - Muraki feels a sense of loss. To win her back he asks Saeko if she wants to watch him as he assassinates the head of the Osaka syndicate. She cannot say no and he knows it.
While it is not a typical yakuza film as there is little bloodshed and killing, it is a gritty portrait of yakuza life: gambling dens, night clubs, racetracks and doing things they have to do and feeling good about it. It is their life and it is unquestioned. It is this that the film is really about: fate and the impending doom that hangs over all of the characters. It reflects the end of the old Japanese tradition of honor and obedience to a patriarchal system that was in disarray after their defeat in WWII and the occupation that followed. The American film noir existentialism and stunning expressionist photography in monochrome Cinemascope create a film experience that is the equal of anything that came out of Europe and the U.S. Even the card game scenes, a game called hana fuda with a deck that has twelve suits all named after flowers, have an intensity that is very noir. There is also a bizarre dream sequence that adds to the stylized strangeness of the film as does the avant garde soundtrack by Toru Takemitsu. The strange and confusing percussion and brass of Takemitsu's score somehow seems in perfect sync with what we are seeing on the screen. This is a complete film experience.