Friday, July 25, 2014
      ( 6:57 AM ) posted by Setsuled  
No, I didn't forget--Happy Birthday, Peter Suschitzky, the latest free chapter of my web comic, The Casebook of Boschen and Nesuko, is online.

Here's an interview with Suschitzky--it begins at five minutes fifty seconds, preceded by brief reviews of movies unrelated to him--it's from a movie review show.

Here are some examples of Suschitzky's work:

To-day's also my friend Amee's birthday--Happy Birthday and may the Force be with you.


Thursday, July 24, 2014
      ( 7:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
I have a NASA pin now.

Twitter Sonnet 649

Sanded knee paper adheres to elbow.
Sliding exercise rocks belong to Gym.
Platinum mist resolves to Jean Harlow.
Corkscrew chipmunks May Pole the ash's limb.
A turned television sussed the bottle.
Trashless hashtags dissemble the ball cap.
The listless sky-writing drags the throttle.
Street lanes of dull murders condemn the sap.
Short sleeved pin shame kept the metal basket.
Organic lightsabre robes fade in smoke.
Clean air concrete falls on the bad gasket.
Ragged ostriches assembled your Coke.
Toys find Christmas faster than rats or cars.
The moon made man designs round trips to Mars.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014
      ( 8:00 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Here's my first Comic Con exclusive--this June bug flew past me when I was across the street from the convention centre, landed, and started burrowing into the grass.

He didn't seem to mind when I pulled the grass blades aside to take pictures. But eventually he moved to another spot.

I also saw some women catcalling at a guy dressed as Wolverine on the escalator, a day after I commented on a post on Facebook about how women generally don't catcall like men do. Though, to be fair, they just seemed to be asking for his number.

I thought this was an interesting promotion for SyFy's show Ascension in the Gaslamp Quarter outside the Con--those are mannequins on the awning.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014
      ( 5:16 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
Did you ever wonder what would happen if the Doctor and Romana met Travis Bickle and Iris in Edwardian London? Well, I more or less found out yesterday when I listened to the Fourth Doctor audio play "The Justice of Jalxar". One of the best Doctor Who audio plays I've heard so far, the story takes the opportunity to show how the Doctor's philosophy conflicts with a vigilante killer's.

It isn't actually Travis and Iris from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, of course, but the references are pretty obvious. A character named Bobby (Mark Goldthorp) is a hansom cab driver into whose cab a young prostitute named Mary (Rosanna Miles) hops one night, begging him to take her away from her life before her pimp, Harvey (Adrian Lukis), shows up and forcibly coaxes her away. Afterwards, the cab driver, who has a very severe idea of justice, takes a special interest in the girl and gives her some money on the side.

When the Doctor encounters him, Bobby even has a line about the rain wiping the scum off the streets. Of course, sex can't be referred to at all on the show, much less prostitution, so Mary is referred to by Harvey as "the best pick-pocket in the East End" and there are references to a "house of ill repute."

The audio adventure also features the return of Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, portrayed by Trevor Baxtor and Christopher Benjamin, respectively, who portrayed the characters originally in the 1977 serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It was nice to hear them again--though I gather they have their own series of spin off audio adventures.

This is the fourth audio adventure I've listened to featuring Mary Tamm as the Doctor's companion Romana and definitely the best. A two part serial about a war between humanity and an invading race of time travelling pregnant worms that preceded it was excruciatingly bad.

Well, to-morrow's the first day of Comic-Con. I can't believe it's already here, it feels like it ought to still be months away. As usual, my posts may be brief or infrequent during the Con, but I will post here and there. Expect lengthier reports beginning Monday.


Monday, July 21, 2014
      ( 4:40 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

One of the well known problems with capitalism is the wedge it drives between the rich and the poor, the ugly contrast between the comfortable lives of the few rich and the often humiliating lifestyles of the poor, disdain imposed on their modes of living by a society that values conspicuous wealth. Akira Kurosawa frequently used his films to discuss this issue, one of the most vivid examples being his 1963 film High and Low (天国と地獄, Heaven and Hell). The film is also about a murder and a kidnapping and while the killer is an example of the embittered poor, Kurosawa does not advocate with the film the actions the killer takes in response to the injustices of capitalism. Nonetheless, this brilliant film is a powerful argument about the largely destructive effects of capitalism.

I hadn't seen High and Low in more than ten years before I bought the blu-ray a couple weeks ago. One of the reasons I picked it up to replace my old DVD is that it features commentary by Stephen Prince who generally provides excellent commentaries for Kurosawa movies but this one turned out to be particularly informative, much more so than his commentary for the recent release of The Hidden Fortress. He discusses how the bizarrely lenient laws regarding the punishment of kidnappers portrayed in the film were in fact the real laws currently in place at the time of the film. When it's discovered that the kidnapper accidentally kidnapped the son of wealthy executive Kingo Gondo's chauffeur instead of Gondo's own child, the worst he can expect if he's caught is a prison sentence of five years.

The film's divided into two parts, the first focusing on "Heaven" and the second on "Hell". Most of the first segment takes place in Gondo's home and feels like a stage play--as Prince notes in the commentary, the whole sequence was played out and filmed in real time with two cameras, the footage from which Kurosawa later edited together. The performances this draws from the actors, together with Kurosawa's ingenious blocking, are truly remarkable. The movie's thematic conflict is set up through contrasts between Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) and his chauffeur, Aoki (Yutaka Sada).

Even though it'd been established some time earlier that it was Aoki's son who was kidnapped, when the police arrive led by Detective Tokura (a cool and relaxed Tatsuya Nakadai), they speak almost exclusively to Gondo while Aoki can be seen standing pathetically in the background holding his son's sweater.

It's the chauffeur's very meekness that so unnerves the powerful Gondo who, in a fascinating moment, paces vigorously against the curtains when Aoki finally begs him to pay the ransom. But Gondo had been in the middle of a delicate manoeuvre to buy out shares in his shoe company and he'd leveraged everything, including his home, on doing so. So, he's driven against the wall to argue, is it his responsibility to save a child's life at the cost of his livelihood? The tension here perfectly lays bare the fundamental, cruel conceit of capitalism.

My favourite exchange, though, from this opening scene of great exchanges is between Gondo and his right hand man in business, Kawanishi (Tatsuya Mihashi) who at first supports his boss's refusal to pay the ransom. He's eager to take a flight to Kyoto in order to deliver the check that will secure Gondo's takeover. However, the next morning Kawanishi suddenly sides with Gondo's wife, Reiko (Kyoko Kagawa), who had been pleading with her husband to pay the ransom. Kawanishi raises several good points, including the fact that Reiko's dowry was in large part the foundation of Gondo's fortune so she ought to have a say in the matter. But Gondo smells a rat and confronts Kawanishi about his change of heart and Kawanishi admits to being swayed by the other executives. He says he lost faith in Gondo when Gondo even considered paying the ransom, demonstrating he lacked a respectable killer's instinct. The fact that Kawanishi had actually formulated real, valid arguments for a point of view opposite his I thought was a brilliant display of psychopathic capitalism.

"First you must learn to smile as you kill if you want to be like the folks on the hill," as John Lennon wrote in "Working Class Hero". In fact, Gondo does live on a hill, in full view of the squalid apartment where the kidnapper lives, as we learn in the second half of the film.

Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's long time leading man, largely disappears from this more cinematic segment where the lead is shared between an effectively cold and agitated Tsutomu Yamazaki as the kidnapper and Tatsuya Nakadai who heads a large team of police detectives. The methods of finding clues and tracking down the kidnapper are covered in exhaustive detail, Kurosawa fascinated by the police procedural, one of the things that recalls his earlier film Stray Dog.

But while one of the detectives observes the kidnapper was right in describing Gondo's home as an obnoxious sight, the film doesn't seek to empathise with the criminal in the way Kurosawa did with Stray Dog. As we watch the kidnapper roam "Hell", from a crowded dance hall to a heroin den, he wears large, reflective glasses as though to suggest he's been so twisted up, consumed by his resentment of the world around him he barely has a personality of his own anymore.

Twitter Sonnet #648

Gangly distortions dilate the pale crust.
Slashes of fern shadows drizzle the moon.
A trombone phoenix emerged from the rust.
Frozen bells herald an orange desert boon.
Background iguana hunger chills the shot.
Spiralling moon eyes'll clink on the glass.
Cream doughnut valleys isolate the dot.
The orange forest people arrange the grass.
Statues of giant noses never blink.
Stalwart wizard plastic farmers may melt.
Broken stoppers do no duty to sink.
Computer hunters take the tower pelt.
Black tree lined mountains bulge with fake water.
Whale ribs fade above the eyelid's daughter.


Sunday, July 20, 2014
      ( 2:49 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I may never see every adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass but I've been making the effort for years now. So my quest has brought me to the very difficult to track down 1949 French Alice in Wonderland (Alice au pays des merveilles). Part of the reason it's so hard to find is that Disney exerted a lot of legal effort and succeeded in preventing its release in the U.S. until the 70s so that it wouldn't compete with Disney's 1951 adaptation. They needn't have bothered--the 1949 Dallas Bower film is quite inferior even to Disney's imperfect animated film but it nonetheless has a few nice qualities.

The film wastes time with an opening segment explaining how all the weird citizens of Wonderland are really people Lewis Carroll knew at Oxford and the Queen of Hearts was in fact Queen Victoria. This is completely contrived for the film and the connexions serve neither to provide insight into the real people and Carroll or into the book. Though Pamela Brown delivers a funny, irreverent performance as Victoria and a perfectly mean and arrogant turn as the Queen of Hearts.

Carol Marsh plays Alice competently--she's pretty and her very formal acting education through the Rank Organisation is right for Alice though she doesn't bring any insight to the material. It's almost more of a nice reading than a performance, especially compared to my two favourite Alices, Anne-Marie Mallik in the Jonathan Miller version and Kristyna Kohoutova in the Jan Svankmajer version--the former bringing out a brooding, petulant, somnambulism and the latter a very childlike sadism, both performances harmonising with the story of Wonderland to bring insight into the dream reflections of Alice's mind.

The 1949 film is much more about Carroll's mind--portrayed by Stephen Murray--but a very dull version of Carroll whose main trouble in life seems to be for some reason his obsession with getting the bell removed from the tower at Oxford. Alice comes across as sort of a cursor for this bland version of Carroll to arbitrarily navigate the events of the book.

The film does get a lot stronger once Alice actually gets to Wonderland and the events of the book are observed. The residents of Wonderland are all portrayed by the stop motion animation of Lou Bunin which is charming but compared to the energy and character of the 1951 Disney film looks rather lacklustre. The 1949 film has musical numbers, too, and they, too, compare rather unflatteringly to the songs in the Disney film, coming off as almost atonal with extremely bland or awkward rhymes.

However, I think this is the only time I've actually seen lobsters dancing a quadrille, not counting John Gielgud dancing on the beach in the Jonathan Miller film, and it has an understated, strange charm.

Not so hard to find anymore, I see someone has uploaded the whole 1949 film to YouTube a month ago--and a better quality video than the DVD I bought (for cheap) off Amazon which appears to be a VHS transfer. If you want to see the quadrille, it's at the fifty seven minute point:

The design of Wonderland has a minimalist, generally red, black, and white design that's pretty but also sort of harsh and cold.


Saturday, July 19, 2014
      ( 2:40 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

How does one approach normal physical and emotional relationships after a lifetime of only abusive or repressive relationships? A teenage orphan named Shun awkwardly attempts to begin a relationship with a prostitute in 1968's Nanami, The Inferno of First Love (初恋・地獄篇, The Inferno of First Love). It's slightly corny and the end of the film is a stupid piece of melodrama but it's also kind of sweet and has a few moments of genuine insight.

The film opens with Nanami (Kuniko Ishii), the prostitute, taking Shun (Akio Takahashi) to a hotel room. She undresses for him and they kiss and spend some time rolling around in bed but he's too shy to go any further.

So he tells her about himself, how after his mother abandoned him as a child he went to live with a couple who are more or less his foster parents. We learn later the stepfather sexually abuses Shun regularly, something a police psychiatrist unearths but for some reason does nothing about.

He hypnotises Shun in an interesting scene where we see his memories playing like a movie projected on a screen and, when he gets to the scenes of abuse from his stepfather, his stepmother (Kazuko Fukuda) steps in front of the projector, demanding the sessions stop, please.

In another instance where the film uses the concept of film in an interesting way, he accompanies Nanami to her former high school where a friend of hers is showing his student film. Shun initially is very rude to the other boy, obviously feeling jealous that Nanami is paying attention to someone else--Nanami, in a more benign display of immaturity, doesn't understand why Shun is being rude. The film is partially in colour--and The Inferno of First Love briefly switches to colour for it--and we see Shun empathising in spite of himself with the film about the young filmmaker's unrequited love for a classmate. I thought this was a nice way of showing how art and film in particular can be a healing influence.

Shun's best friend is a prepubescent girl he meets sometimes in the park. Although he's attacked by a mob who thinks he's a paedophile in one over the top scene, Shun clearly seems to bond with the child because they're close to the same level of emotional development. He's frightened of sexuality as we see in one overlong scene where he follows Nanami into a basement studio where she poses for fetish photos.

Nanami also tells Shun about herself in that first hotel room scene, how she had started out posing for nude photos before gradually becoming a prostitute. Her parents were the ones who originally sent her to work as a nude model and her life is quite innocent in comparison to Shun's. Though I think the filmmakers may have been slightly more critical of her career than the film succeeded in being--in one funny scene, a crazed food cart proprietor strips down and poses in the street.

A friend calls Nanami outside to laugh at the man and Nanami unconsciously comes outside half naked, nonetheless laughing at how silly it is for someone to be posing nude for the public.

But despite the English title, the film's much more about Shun. Nanami seems to basically be leading a happy, stable life while Shun seems as though he might never fight his way through the fog of distorted feelings life has generated around him.


Friday, July 18, 2014
      ( 2:29 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
Happy birthday, Hunter S. Thompson, the next free chapter of The Casebook of Boschen and Nesuko is online. Here's a healthy way to enjoy whisky:

A lot of interesting people were born to-day: The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Machine Gun Kelly, Nelson Mandela, and Screamin' Jay Hawkins were all born on July 18 as well.

Twitter Sonnet #647

Chipped yellow paint upside drowning wing sweat.
Thousands of hats like Grane's in the fire.
Wrong red chips yellow for the ducat bet.
Conrad Veidt smiled at a spare tire.
Relays through Heaven and telegraph skip.
Broken stops cheapen lacquered periods.
The X axis abducts through the Y's dip.
Squeezed eye graphs then flash stars in myriads.
Repealed Rapunzel cabbage braids wither.
Ordained dorsal cellophane lips dissolve.
Counterfeit red seaweed coils slither.
Gum cholesterol yarn planets revolve.
Faraway freeway elbows launch the boat.
Mobs of paper dragons crammed in the coat.


Thursday, July 17, 2014
      ( 5:36 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The water was shut off for five hours in my building again to-day--from 9am to 2pm, and I've been getting up at 10am. So I got up a little early this morning and went out to breakfast--eggs, asparagus, mushroom, and swiss on a thin bagel from Einstein's--slightly more decadent than my usual oatmeal but at least I got my protein for the day. Then I went to the tide pools. The tide had been coming in for some time but the crabs were out in impressive force.

These pictures were taken with a new camera I bought a couple months ago. It's the Canon Elph 115, the new version of what my old camera is, I think--I'm not entirely sure since the label has long since rubbed off my old camera.

It feels like a downgrade, though, because the new version is missing manual exposure adjustment, which is pretty aggravating. Looking at reviews online I see I'm not the only one complaining about this. It has a selection of prefab exposure settings that come along with tinting in some cases. One of those attempts to dumb things down that actually makes things so much clumsier and less personal. The exposure for "daylight" was much too bright for me--I tinkered with the contrast in Paint Shop Pro for some of these.

The new camera does seem to take better macro shots--some of these are through a few inches of water but the crabs and shells still come out nice and sharp.

After this, I still had hours to go until there was water at my place again so I drove around ten miles north on Interstate 5 to Oceanside where I found an enormous comic book store had opened since the last time I was there. I bought two volumes of Moyoko Anno's Happy Mania, seven and eight, a series I've been reading gradually over the past several years. Comic book shops seem like such delicate phenomena, I get excited when I see one. Though I guess it's odd timing considering Comic Con is next week.

Traffic coming back was amazingly sluggish so I took a slightly roundabout route. So much for getting a bunch of work done to-day in preparation for the Con. But I've already decided to put in more time to-morrow and Saturday than I normally do. I had to fight the impulse to wander around Oceanside. I love exploring, that's how I used to spend my free time from 1999 to 2003 or 04, back when I could fill my gasoline tank with ten dollars. It's a much more expensive habit now but moving into a new place in another part of town has kind of rekindled the itch--it's amazing how much of San Diego I still haven't seen.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014
      ( 4:32 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

There are traps made of paperwork, bills, and cultural expectations and there are traps made of sand. In an effort to escape one for a few days, Niki Junpei finds himself caught in the other in 1964's The Woman in the Dunes (砂の女 "The Sand's Woman"), a beautiful film about the boundaries that shape human behaviour.

Junpei (Eiji Okada) is a schoolteacher and an amateur entomologist who takes three days off from his busy life in Tokyo to catch insects living in the sands of a remote desert located on the coast. He captures the little creatures and pins them to a board, the parallel to his own capture by the local villagers being rather obvious. When he misses the last bus home, he accepts an invitation to take a rope ladder down into a huge pit in the sand where a woman (Kyoko Kishida) lives alone.

He stays the night, marvelling how the woman, who is never named, spends all her days and nights fighting the sand--using an umbrella to keep sand off the food, constantly shovelling sand to keep it from burying the building, and putting sand into crates that are hauled up out of the pits by the villagers. It's a sort of surreal, sinister cottage industry--people living in pits contribute sand to a criminal organisation that then sells the sand under the table to construction companies who use it to build cheap, substandard buildings and bridges.

When he asks her how she can be a part of such a scheme, she shrugs and says it's not her concern. The world outside the pit is like another planet to her. She doesn't argue with Junpei when he points out the advantages of living outside a huge pit of sand, she's simply and very completely accepted the pit as her reality.

She loves Junpei, wanting to have sex with him right away--he wakes up on the first morning to find her sleeping naked a few feet away--but her love for him is entirely due to the fact that he's trapped in the pit with her. She has no interest in any other aspect of who he is--she listens with smiling indulgence when he talks about insects and she seems curious about Tokyo in the way one might be interested in celebrity gossip. But, really, she's content to accept whatever the pit provides.

She's not the first woman we see in the film--Junpei, before being captured by a villager played by Koji Mitsui (who I remember best as the gambler from Kurosawa's The Lower Depths), thinks about his wife while he relaxes and we see visions of her on the dunes.

A first time viewer might take her as the Sand Woman of the title. His thoughts beginning with a rumination on all the responsibilities of city life he concludes with the responsibilities "men and women" have to each other, saying they're "slaves to their fear of being cheated. In turn they dream up new certificates to prove their innocence."

The woman in the pit is the opposite in that she basically expects nothing from Junpei except to provide a warm, male body. In its references to unions and extorted labour, the film may be interpreted as a criticism of communism. But it's really not that specific--it's a much bigger story about a human compulsion to escape freedom.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014
      ( 6:11 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
Two of my favourite vegetarians, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Morrissey, both released new albums to-day I was able to go into Best Buy and buy physical copies of. I've finished listening to the Morrissey album, World Peace is None of Your Business, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to. Hearing the title track had left me unenthusiastic as it seems to consist of not particularly profound political observations. I think the album ought to have been called I'm Not a Man--that's the name of the third track on the album, my favourite at this point, and the track that most directly expresses the theme that runs through much of the album--an attack on complacency and cruelty arising from roles enforced by society, particularly gender roles. "I'm Not a Man" almost sounds like a rebuke to Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy"--the distorted cries at the end of "I'm Not a Man" sound similar to the distinct backing vocals to "Mannish Boy". And as a rallying cry to gender non-conformity it also reminds me of Ani DiFranco's "Not a Pretty Girl".

Don Juan
wife-beater vest
cold hand
ice man
warring caveman
well, if this is what it takes
to describe
I'm not a man.

The track is preceded by the nice "Neal Cassady Drops Dead" about the prominent beat figure. It, too, is a criticism of the bad behaviour that is usually, ultimately excused on account of boys being boys, in much the same way Kerouac expressed a simultaneous love for Cassady's wanderlust while portraying his tendency to abandon women and his children as pathetic and cruelly irresponsible. The song doesn't provide new insight but it works as a musical accompaniment for On the Road.

Morrissey hasn't released any real music videos for the album so far, only strange spoken word renditions of a few songs, which are kind of nice but the album versions of the songs are so much better.

I have to say he seems more like William Shatner every year.

"Weird Al" Yankovic, meanwhile, is releasing music videos for all the songs on his new album. He's released two so far, my favourite being "Word Crimes", a parody of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines".

Twitter Sonnet #646

Lime pudding oxygen stuck to the plaque.
Nothing escapes the bankrupt stromboli.
Gang broken glasses flutter on the track.
Leather smoke clouds obscure the unholy.
Peppermint tiles stick to the sandal.
Unchanging silver suits pack the ice box.
Sink strainer drains clog the new drawer handle.
Faded pink grasses mark the gameless clocks.
Acre cookies crumble like the clay king.
Bad fractions aren't even like whole numbers.
Not every angel in the bar should sing.
Good sawdust goes to particle slumbers.
One vegetarian's mandate is fun.
One vegetarian broke legs to run.


Monday, July 14, 2014
      ( 6:08 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Does a man choose his song or does the song choose him? Is it better to die for the group or to take being asked to die as a sign it's time to go it alone? There is a sense of the inevitable hanging over 1966's Tokyo Drifter (東京流れ者), a Seijun Suzuki yakuza film slightly more conventional than Branded to Kill but only slightly. Not many serious gangster films give their protagonists musical numbers or employ minimalist, blatantly artificial sets. Tokyo Drifter is a beautifully stylised film that revels in its archetypes even as it subverts its genre.

Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari) is a young yakuza soldier trying to be a former yakuza soldier at the beginning of the film because his outfit, headed by Kurata (Ryuji Kita), is trying to go legit. In the first scene, the only black and white scene in the film otherwise shot in brillliant, beautiful colour, Tetsu takes a beating from some toughs in a rival gang who don't believe he's gone straight.

The movie has a theme song, also called "Tokyo Drifter", which is played over the opening credits and then is sung in a nightclub by Tetsu's singer girlfriend, Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara). After that, Tetsu can't get the song out of his head and routinely whistles or sings it throughout the film, including in one memorable scene where, being stalked by the rival gang's enforcer, Tatsu (Tamio Kawaji), Tetsu coolly watches a car being demolished.

Things go sour when the rival Otsuka group gets jealous of Kurata's legitimately owned property and they arrange a trap, forcing Kurata to take his group back to its old yakuza ways. As part of a deal for peace, Tetsu, being Kurata's best soldier, is forced to leave Tokyo, so he wanders throughout Japan as a drifter, fitting, given he's been singing about doing that for the whole movie.

Another inevitability is brought up when Keiichi (Tsuyoshi Yoshida), Otsuka's former top soldier, saves Tetsu from the Otsuka men who try to kill him anyway, despite the fact that he's left Tokyo as agreed. Keiichi tells Tetsu it's only a matter of time before Kurata tries to sacrifice him the way Otsuka betrayed Keiichi.

The broad thematic quality of the story is matched by a heavily stylish aesthetic. The colourful and minimalist nightclubs paired with the recurring musical numbers give the film a Hollywood musical quality. The characters themselves have a larger than life, comic book quality. Tetsu has a strange boyishness and is always in a pale, pristinely tailored suit. Otsuka is always in a bright red suit and his face, covered with enormous sunglasses, is mostly shown only in extreme closeups of parts of it, giving him the quality of an omniscient being.

The sense is that Tetsu is an earnest child lost in a world dominated by sinister, cynical forces.


Sunday, July 13, 2014
      ( 3:28 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

If there's a Hell for film noir characters, and it's not their own tortured lives, it might look like 1967's Branded to Kill (殺しの烙印). A satire more cruel than funny, a sincere Post Modern action film, director Seijin Suzuki riffed from a run of the mill yakuza movie script to create a commentary on film noir character tropes. The comments take the form of stripping from the world the characters inhabit any semblance of reason or dignity. It's a clever, nicely shot absurdist nightmare.

The story follows Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido), a yakuza hitman, ranked the third best marksman the criminal underworld. Most of the time he's cool and reserved, except the nostalgic smell of boiling rice seems to make him almost orgasmically excited.

His wife, Mami (Mariko Ogawa), is almost always naked and is almost always trying to get the generally distracted Goro to have sex with her. His attentions, though, are diverted by the cold and untouchable Misako Nakajo (Annu Mari) who hires him to kill someone involved in an overseas diamond smuggling operation.

He meets her in the rain and most shots of her afterwards include raindrops or something that looks like raindrops which she doesn't seem to notice. She collects dead birds and butterflies which seem to symbolise Goro trapped in his obsession with her. "I love you," she says at one point, looking at some dead birds in a cage, to which he angrily responds, "Don't despise me!" A subversion of the frequently portrayed barrier between a male protagonist and a femme fatale where there's a simultaneous sense of rejection and attraction.

The triangle here loosely resembles many seen in great films noir, from Vertigo to Out of the Past--the man, the femme fatale, and the available girl he's less interested in. Only here, everyone's motives are ultimately portrayed as cheap or childish beneath the stylistic veneer.

The movie also mocks the portrayal of alcoholism in films noir--at the beginning of the film, Goro cautions a young yakuza against drinking whisky before a job. One drink, and the young man turns into a cartoonish, stumbling drunkard who dies in a blaze of glory. Throughout the film afterwards, one drink turns even the sharpest character into a gibbering buffoon.

The end of the film mocks the intimacy that arises between two absurdly skilled adversary killers who find themselves in a stalemate. One might almost think it's a parody of the extended standoff in John Woo's The Killer if Branded to Kill weren't a much older film. The mysterious "Number 1 Hitman" (Koji Nanbara) and Goro end up in such an extended standoff, each with a gun pointed at the other, that they call a truce for periods of sleep where they get into bed together handcuffed to the frame.

The film's finale, in a decadent and grim satire of supreme skill in committing violence, drains every last bit of mystique from the trope, even taking the strangely beautiful relationship between Misako and Goro built throughout the film and reducing it to something small, sad, and silly. Though, in making it to be silly in the end, it somehow makes the rest of their relationship more beautiful.

The film has a lot in common with Godard's Pierrot le Fou, which also subverted conventions of action and suspense films by highlighting their artificiality. But there was nonetheless a sense that Godard had an affection for the characters. I think there's empathy for Suzuki's characters in Branded to Kill but I feel like this made him want to pull their wings off even more.


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