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Saturday, February 1, 2014

KAWAITA HANA / PALE FLOWER (1964)

Masahiro Shinoda’s quotidian yakuza story is an uncompromised beauty. Ryô Ikebe, stoic perfection as a mid-level gangster, comes out of prison to find his old gang has merged with their long time rival. So, what was the point of the murder he got sent up for? And how long before a new rival organization will have to be dealt with? No wonder he’s in an existential funk, drinking, gambling and pushing his loyal girlfriend into marriage with a respectable office worker. Besides, he’s too busy obsessing over a high-priced call girl he’s run into at the illegal gambling dens. With the measured hauteur of a fashion model, this beauty lives without a past or a future, sampling whatever thrills she can find thru wild gambling binges, fast cars, drugs and, when suggested by Ikebe, riding shotgun for a kingpin’s assassination. Shinoda brings a combination of restraint, control and fitful excitement to his gorgeous b&w CinemaSc0pe frame, and there’s a fine dissonant score by the great Tôru Takemitsu that switches to Bach (sung in English, possibly by Janet Baker) for the yakuza’s final hit. Inexplicably unknown Stateside, the film is a nihilistic near masterpiece.

DOUBLE-BILL: Stateside, Shinoda’s best known film is probably the arrestingly titled, highly stylized DOUBLE SUICIDE/’69, but PALE FLOWER makes a far better introduction.

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