Japanese Noir

Movie Night!

I watch some fairly awful movies with great regularity and glee. What could possibly promise less and truly deliver on the promise than THE GIANT GILA MONSTER or I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF?

I also watch Japanese movies with regularity. They generally fall into two categories;

  • Delightful foolishness featuring Godzilla or his friends Mothra, Rodan, Ghidra, et al.
  • Seriously engaging films directed by Akira Kurasawa (the man is a god to me).

But tonight’s 1961 Japanese flick is a new experience for me. None of the actors are wearing rubber suits, Tokyo is not destroyed, Toshiro Mifune is not in the cast, and thousands of mounted warriors are not raising the dust.

ZERO FOCUS (I haven’t a clue as to the meaning of the title) is beautifully directed by Yoshitaro Nomura. I prowl the overnight offerings of Turner Classic Movies just in hope of finding flicks like this.

If you are a fan of film noir and Hitchcock, this is your meat.

It’s in black and white. There are trains. The characters speak Japanese, but the language of the film is “bleak”. I am fluent in bleak. There are trains. The plot twists and twists again. The characters play for keeps. Those who die stay dead, though sometimes we wonder. There are trains. Segments of Japanese post-war society of which I was totally ignorant are explored (dredged?). I cared about every one of the characters in this story. This is very fine storytelling.

The acting is also very fine. Excuse me for throwing some names at you, but these ladies are new to me.

  • Yoshiko Kuga is plain, pathetic, smart, and determined. That can’t be easy to do.
  • Hizuru Takachino is polished and desperate.
  • Ineko Arima is heartbreaking……………….heartbreaking.

These women drive the film. How unusual is that for 1961?

Ko Nishimura and Yoshi Kato provide mighty support.

Behind these performances, the music is gripping.

I understand Mr. Nomura’s best film is THE CASTLE OF SAND. I gotta find that.

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