Escape from Japan (1964)

22 07 2008

I wasn’t prepared for what is essentially, an outright “gangster” movie. This plays out more like a Seijun Suzuki film than anything else I’ve seen from Yoshida or any other J-new wave director. Then again, even Suzuki was a bit more emotionally reserved of a director than Yoshida was here. What starts out like an update of Good-for-Nothing turns into an extremely woeful action film that then proceeds to indulge in some “runaway lovers” elements. Needless to say, the whole thing is a bit of a mess and not very reflective of Yoshida’s potential. It is still enjoyable to watch, if only as a technical exercise, but even then it is fairly unremarkable.

A group of crime-ridden young adults devise a plan to rob the Turkish bath that one of their friends works at. The plan, as one can predict, does not go as the group plans it and they begin to sort through all the problems. Eventually, two of the people involved in the heist, Yasue and Tatsuo form a romantic bond. The lovers on the run then set forth their plan to “escape from Japan” to the freedom of America, which they’ve greatly idealized.

There are a few positive traits here, aside from Yoshida’s expected technical excellence. Perhaps the single most interesting aspect of the narrative is the fact that the protagonist turns out to be the slightly annoying and extremely stupid (seemingly) comic-relief guy. A clever and daring choice on Yoshida’s part, but probably the only remotely subversive aspect of an otherwise pulpy narrative. The whole post-heist sequence in the gang’s “hideout” has a lot of potential, despite unavoidable shades of Reservoir Dogs, but eventually comes out as being far too dramatic.

There’s literally, a sequence here in which every character seems to screaming, which is not only extremely annoying, it also doesn’t make any sense. Yasue is being rapped, her screams are understandable, but everybody else? Did they forget that they’re hiding from the police? Wouldn’t yelling be the single most unwise thing to do? It’s a bad enough that the film never really amounts to anything more than just a well-executed action movie, but it is even worse when there’s MST3K-worthy gaps in logic like the one I mentioned above. Not a terrible movie, I guess, but it is bizarre and upsetting to think that this the same guy who was capable of making a film as great as The Affair.

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2 responses

23 07 2008
gleemonex

yoshida talked about this film in a 1970 interview with ‘cahiers du cinema’ that’s available online.
apparently, the last reel of the film as intended by yoshida was to show
the captured/cornered tatsuo going absolutely insane. the studio execs cut it, and in response, yoshida left shochiku and went independent.
but yeah, this is pretty pulpy for yoshida. i still enjoyed it though.

17 10 2008
sumimasen

i just finally got through this last night. (after several aborted attempts prior).
I had to keep backing up to where i’d last left off to refresh my memory of what was happening in the story. it really seemed like a heavily narrative driven film, to the detriment of character development. first this happened, and then this happened, etc etc.
i thought it was wonderfully shot and the cinematographic style reminded me of other, better films from the period – like masumura’s giants and toys or some of suzuki’s films, but it lacked those films risk-taking in editing or direction.
the “bookends” to the film – showing the painter – were interesting. the first shots of him painting over the opening titles primed me for a totally different kind of film. there was enough in it to interest me in checking out some of the director’s other work, but overall, if i were to share this with a friend, i’d have to prologue it with a disclaimer, “Here’s a mildly interesting flop. Not much to remember, but compelling enough to finish watching.”

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