In a Ring of Mountains (1962)

22 02 2008

This is a much more gentle and deliberately paced film than one may expect from something featuring Raizo Ichikawa. Nakayama Shichiri, despite its fair share of sensationalist moments, belongs with more mature work like Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, director Kazuo Ikehiro faded into nothing, building his career around many inconsequential Zaitochi films. This early effort showcases his personal vision which seems to never build up to its highest possibility.

Lumber worker Masakichi meets and falls in love with Oshima, and they quickly make plans to marry. The plans fall through, though when Oshima is raped and later commits suicide. Masakichi avenges her rape and then flees town and becomes a prominent figure in the gambling scene. He befriends a man named Toku. Toku is very unlucky when it comes to gambling but he must continue to do so in order to meet the family’s standards. Masakichi is introduced to Toku’s wife, Onaka, who looks exactly like Oshima. Masakichi, still heartbroken from the loss of a lover, feels obligated to protect Onaka and Toku as they flee from law. Gradually, Onaka falls for Masakichi, which causes a drift in the three’s runaway plan.

Built upon a plethora of melodramatic turns, Ikehiro’s films never feels the slightest bit unnatural. The wonderful performance certainly help downplay a lot of overly-dramatic sequences, but I think it’s Ikehiro’s economic cinematography (done by Senkichiro Takeda) that plays the biggest role in delivering a very natural, almost Narusian vibe. Certainly, there are limitations that any ninkyo eiga film will contain, but all things considered, there’s very little to improve on.

As mentioned before, signs of a more reserved style are prominent for the film’s first half. At times, it recalls anything and everything The Sun’s Burial to Yamanaka’s Tange Sazen. Little has been written about Ikehiro, but I’d jump to the conclusion that he had a fair knowledge of Japanese cinema during that time period. Towards the end, our characters take a detour through Mizoguchi style poetics. Visually, one is reminded of Sansho the Bailiff while narratively, there is somewhat of a connection with Chikamatsu Monogatari. It seems lazy on my part to simply compare every tangible aspect of the film to the work of other directors, but the influence seems overwhelmingly apparent to me. This is not a criticism of Ikehiro in the least. He has taken what he’s learned from the best and streamlined it into his own personal aesthetic. The result is one of the very best films of it’s kind.

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