that slinky crime jazz. Check out those
five strangers sidling up to each other in a train station. Even viewers who
are inexplicably resistant to subtitled foreign films will appreciate the
post-war noir coolness of Shohei Imamura’s Endless
here), which screens for free this
Friday as the opening film of the Asia Society’s mini-retrospective, Vengeance is Shohei Imamura.
the waning hours of the war, Major Hashimoto and three co-conspirators buried a
barrel of morphine below a field hospital, vowing to reunite ten years later to
claim their illicit goods. It was dark
and circumstances were chaotic, so nobody really knows what their criminal
collaborators look like. They just know
to look for Hashimoto and two other men wearing discrete Imperial military
pins. Things get tricky right from the
start when Shima Hashimoto arrives in the place of her late brother, greeting
four prospective accomplices rather than three.
plenty of suspicion falls on all five sketchy characters, but nobody wants to
walk away from their share of the morphine stash. Shima Hashimoto’s destabilizing sultriness
further guarantees future violence. Yet,
everybody temporarily buys into the plan to tunnel below the working class
neighborhood butcher’s shop unknowingly built over the buried cache. To make matters worse, unforeseen circumstances
impose an accelerated deadline on the desperate rogues.
it is pretty clear this is all heading for a justly disastrous end, Imamura and
Suzuki Toshiro’s adaptation of Shinji Fujiwara’s source novel still delivers
several nifty twists and turns along the way.
However, the subplot involving the rather incompetent assistant forced
on the five by their temporary landlord (his disappointed father) mostly just
muddies the waters with confusing comic relief.
The extent and nature of his slow-wittedness almost seems to vary from
scene to scene, but no matter. Shima
Hashimoto is a killer femme fatale from start to finish, which is far more
in 1958, Desire oozes enough hostile
sexual tension to still feel edgy by contemporary standards. Working with a cast of consummate professionals,
Imamura crafts a massively sweaty hothouse atmosphere, perfectly accentuated by
Shinsaku Himeda’s classically noir black-and-white cinematography. This is a nocturnal world, where there is
always an eighty-five percent chance of rain.
is no denying the sizzle Misako Watanabe adds, out vamping Mae West as Ms. Hashimoto. We can tell she will be trouble right from
the first seemingly innocent shot (and she is still making great films, like
Japan’s recent foreign language Oscar submission, The Great Passage). Likewise, Taiji Tonoyama serves as a perfect
foil to everyone as the bristling, blustering , bull-headed Onuma, while
Imamura regular Kô Nishimura provides a nice counterpoint as the more cerebral
and calculating Nakada.
Desire is dark, but it is
great fun, especially for film noir lovers.
It is an excellent way to start wading into the work of Imamura, which
includes many serious documentaries and two Cannes Palme D’Or winners. Highly recommended, it screens (for free)
this Friday (1/17), kicking off the Vengeance
is Shohei Imamura series at the Asia Society on Park Avenue.
Labels: Asia Society, Film Noir, Japanese Cinema, Shohei Imamura