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Kiga kaikyô (A Fugitive from the Past)

Posted by martinteller on April 24, 2013

Detective Yumisaka (Junzaburô Ban) is trying to find a criminal.  Three men robbed a family of millions of yen, murdered them, burnt down the house, and fled while the fire spread through the town.  Meanwhile, a typhoon was also raging and capsized a ferry carrying hundreds of people.  In the confusion, they steal a boat for their getaway.  The next day, two of the bodies washed up on the shore are not identified as being among the ferry passengers.  It turns out they are two of the suspects in the robbery/murder case.  Now the third man, Takichi Inukai (Rentarô Mikuni), is on the run.  He hides out for an evening in a brothel, staying with the prostitute Yae Sugito (Sachiko Hidari).  He’s haunted and flustered, and when he sees the newspapers he scampers away, leaving a huge tip for Yae.  The money allows her to pay off her family’s debts and get her out of prostitution.  At least, for a while… eventually she returns to the life, finding it the safest option.  But still she harbors a deep sense of gratitude.  For ten years, Yae and Yumisaka obsess over finding Inukai… one to thank him, and one to catch him.

That’s more plot introduction than I usually provide, but it’s a three-hour movie with a lot of plot.  And it covers a lot of thematic ground.  We see the harsh economic realities of post-war Japan, as the film starts in 1947 with black markets flourishing, certain commodities in short supply, and financial desperation.  Inukai and the two men he was with are repatriated citizens, and we get a sense of the difficulties they faced.  When Inukai tells his side of the story, we have to decide whether or not to believe him… and if we do believe him, we ponder what that says about fate and the decisions we make in the face of crisis (very noir-ish stuff, actually).  It’s also a film about guilt and atonement, about the struggles of women in the cities, about spiritual karma, and about obligations we can’t let go of.

And besides all that, it’s just a ripping good story.  You have your police procedural elements, your fugitive on the run elements, your emotional drama.  It’s all pieced together nicely, and except for a slight sluggishness in the middle, maintains your interest for its lengthy running time.  Mikuni (one of the leads in The Burmese Harp, among other notable roles) is a complex and riveting presence, and it’s not until the end when you start to understand his behavior in the beginning.  Hidari is fantastic as well, and has one of the most unusual and memorable scenes in the movie.  When Inukai was staying with Yae, she clipped his fingernails.  After he bolts, she saves one of the clippings.  Later, we see her carefully unfold a handkerchief, take out the nail, and orgasmically caress herself with it.  I can’t think of another film where someone makes love to a discarded fingernail.

The music and cinematography is also top-notch, with a lot of superb tracking shots in a well-organized widescreen frame.  The camera truly becomes an observer, peeking over a fence or following a face.  At times — moments of intense action or emotion — the screen goes negative.  This could be hokey and distracting, but director Tomu Uchida pulls it off well by using it sparingly.  The film is compelling, beautifully executed and just damn good.  Rating: Great (90)


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