28 July 2013 | sharptongue
Flag In The Mist is evidently a very popular story, this version being a remake of Yoji Yamada's 1965 film, as well being made again as a TV series in 2010. Also, it is based on a novel by one of Japan's great writers. Seichô Matsumoto is a hard-working (450 novels !) and enormously popular writer, whose work ranges from pulp to first-rate. Dozens of his books have been filmed, some very successfully.
The star, Momoe Yamaguchi, was a 1970s sensation. Discovered on a talent show as a teen, she enjoyed dizzying popularity as a singer and movie star through the 70s, when she was considered Japan's darling. Then in 1980, she married Tomokazu Miura, her co-star, and dropped out of public sight.
The movies made by Momoe and Tomo were aimed squarely at young Japanese women. Highly melodramatic, replete with unbelievable situations and corny lines, though not by any means syrupy. Flag In The Mist is also loaded with corruption, deceit, the criminal underworld and violence.
FITM is a Momoe vehicle, par excellence. It allows Momoe to suffer, fume and plot. The film is made with solid production values and a generally great supporting cast.
If it isn't yet clear, let me spell it out. I am decidedly not in the target audience for this movie. Momoe and Tomo make a nice couple, but their deficiencies as actors are clearly on display. Momoe can act, though in a limited range, and nothing is done to stretch her; nor would her audience have expected her to. Even Tomo's fans admit that he can't act. His critics are scathing, noting that he possesses neither acting talent nor charisma.
Tomo happily admits this. He has a career only because he is "Mr Momoe". He continued to act (or pretend to !) after Momoe retired, staying determinedly quiet about their private life (happy and very quiet, verging on dull) until a couple of years ago when, according to a Japan Times article, he revealed some details upon the release of a biopic. Momoe's still-loyal army of fans, who still buy her recordings in large numbers, lapped it up.
Judging by the story and writings about the other versions (I haven't read the book), the plot was adjusted to focus more on Momoe and Tomo. Even in this version, Tomo appears to be a fairly minor character who pushes his way in, rather than the romantic lead expected by the teenage audience.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found no subtly in this movie. When the bar owner pleads for Kiriko to tell what she witnessed, she is hysterical, as she is in jail when Kiriko denies ever meeting her. Otsuka is a slimy, sleazy slob. It is tempting to suppose that these and other experienced support actors simply hammed it up, egged on by the director.
I found the hamming and lack of credibility hard to take. I enjoyed the references to and scenery of Kyushu. And despite this low rating, I will be watching a few more movies by Momoe and Tomo. Why ? Well, partly because they are available and with English subs, there might be some nice scenery, and perhaps for a few lashes of masochism.