Monday, August 7, 2017

GOJIRA (Ishiro Honda, 1954, Japan)


Caveat: This is the original uncut Japanese version. To fully appreciate this film, you must understand it on its own terms; you must put to rest the campy films spawned by this classic. GODZILLA is a parable of the atomic age, a monster awakened by science tainted with moral lassitude; a destructive and dire warning that mankind stalks the nightmare’s abyss. 

The giant Jurassic creature stirs from its millennial slumber because the United States is testing atomic bombs in the Pacific Ocean: this beast the rises from the murky depths and ravages Odo Island before advancing upon mainland Japan…and laying Tokyo to ruin. It is also a metaphor concerning science run amok: Dr. Serizawa fears that his volatile creation the Oxygen Destroyer, though it will kill Godzilla, will be used as a weapon to escalate the arms race and obliterate mankind, he laments “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all. As a scientist-no, as a human being-I cannot allow that to happen”. 

Dr. Yamane (superbly portrayed by Takashi Shimura!) believes that this creature should be captured alive and studied, even at the risk of total catastrophe: knowledge is more important that human life. While the debate rages, so does Godzilla as millions die in the ensuing firestorm of Tokyo, eerily reminiscent of the Allied firebombing of Japan only a few years earlier. When one woman on a train compares this war with her survival at Nagasaki, the chilling catharsis is finally revealed. 

The film is deftly directed by Ishiro Honda and focuses upon the characters and their moral dilemmas…not a rubber-suited monster amid crushed dioramas. When Godzilla is filmed in medium and long shot, the towering silhouette is reminiscent of a rising mushroom cloud as the cities fiery tendrils rake the darkening sky. The creature’s nightmarish roar is like Munch’s scream, a discordant reverberation as nature fights back to reclaim the world. But science does not fail us: Dr. Serizawa burns his research and utilizes his desperate weapon to kill the Beast and makes the ultimate sacrifice for Japan…and the whole damned human race. He takes his secrets to his watery grave. But if these nuclear tests continue, Dr. Yamane asks, will another Godzilla awaken? Or something worse? 

Final Grade: (A+)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

THE BIG RED ONE: RECONSTRUCTION (Sam Fuller, 1980, USA)



"While this is an expensive epic, he hasn't fallen to the temptations of the epic form. He doesn't give us a lot of phony meaning, as if to justify the scope of the production. There aren't a lot of deep, significant speeches. In the ways that count, "The Big Red One" is still a B-movie – hard-boiled, filled with action, held together by male camaraderie, directed with a lean economy of action. It's one of the most expensive B-pictures ever made, and I think that helps it fit the subject. "A" war movies are about War, but "B" war movies are about soldiers." –Roger Ebert

 
Sam Fuller wasn’t a journalist or merely an observer during the Second World War: he was a Dogface, an infantryman in the 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division…The Big Red One. He wrote this film from his own experiences: from the initial landing in North Africa, the bloody route of the Kasserine Pass to Sicily and eventually Omaha Beach (3rd wave), the Hurtgen Forest and finally the liberation of Falkenau Concentration/Death Camp.  Fuller wrote in his Autobiography A THIRD FACE that this film, made 35 years after the events, helped him deal with the nightmares that still kept him awake most nights. But he made a fiction film based on factual death because the true face of war is just too damn awful. He has made one of the greatest and most underrated war films of all time.
Ebert’s quote above is spot-on: Fuller shrinks the war from the epic to the mundane, focusing upon the five men (four Doggies and their nameless Sgt.) as they fight from battle to battle. He takes us to the short downtime between the fighting as the men laugh and joke but never pontificate about the meanings of the war or their lives without it. These are men who live only in the moment, who have learned to live with a realistic expectation of dying violently, at any moment, at any time. Yet they struggle to remain human beings and not animals. The enemies are the animals. As the gruff Sgt. tells Griff, We don’t murder animals. We kill them.” This insight into the soldier’s psychology and day to day trauma is quite revealing and subverts typical heroic conventions of the genre. These soldiers aren’t afraid so much of dying as having their cocks shot off! Gone are the super-hero actions and overt dramatizations as each soldier is presented as an individual but with a common goal: survival. They have no plan to die for their country or some vague definition of Democracy. This existential theme is quite subversive because World War 2 films typically depict the Greatest Generation as full of chest-pounding righteousness while suppressing the human factor. Fuller sets the record straight. This is the anti-THE LONGEST DAY or the polar opposite of flag-waiving John Wayne propaganda and anathema to the trite melodramatic flourishes of FURY or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. 
Fuller may have had a limited budget for such an elaborate story so he films mostly in medium close-up to extreme close-up. Adam Greenberg’s framing is exceptional as he may film violent sequences with hundreds of extras in medium shot, yet never loses coherence of the action. Fuller cuts in the close-ups often for tight reaction shots which brings us into the trench with the soldier. It’s anxious and chaotic. Though Fuller didn’t have the budget to use actual vintage tanks and equipment this in no way diminishes the impact of the drama. The score is anything but patriotic and underlines some of the transitions yet doesn’t slather the film in John Williams’-like sentimentality.  It’s a nearly perfect marriage of music and image as one compliments the other.
Fuller also mirrors the war-weary Sgt. with a Nazi Officer and gives us unique insight into the mantra of a soldier regardless of nationality or patriotism: they are just killing the enemy, after all. Once the uniform and ideology are stripped away Fuller depicts them as not too dissimilar. The Nazi Officer even echoes the Sgt.’s statement about murder to one of his own squad…before shooting him for not following orders. If this seems like Fuller is making a moral statement about the contemptuous Nazi-Code, he later shows us Omaha Beach on D-day were the Sgt. practically murders Griff because the young soldier is too scared to follow orders. Soldiers are all the same indeed!
Morals and Murder aside, it’s really the quiet moments that shine in Fuller’s story. Here, the squad relaxes amid the destruction and sometimes celebrates with liberated civilians. But it’s the children whom Fuller focuses upon the most. The little boy who wants a four-handled casket and “taxi” for his dead mother who lays rotting away in a wooden cart, the little girl who puts flowers in the Sgt.’s Helmet or the little girl who stares hungrily while he eats his rations. There’s even a pregnant woman who gives birth inside of a tank! (Which is a true story; Fuller just placed he experience into a fictional context) Lastly, the malnourished little boy whom they save from Falkenau Death camp who dies on the shoulders of the weary Sgt. These innocents suffer but don’t dredge tears from our soldiers. The soldiers don’t talk wistfully of their civilian life or dead comrades or pray to a higher deity. There is no time for that Hollywood nonsense. There is only fear, lust and survival. What finally draws a reaction from the “coward” Griff is the sight of the inmates at Falkenau. So he finds a Nazi hiding in one of the ovens and is finally able to kill…not murder. Even the Sgt. seeks to make amends for his killing of a Hun soldier in the First World War by saving a Nazi officer he bayonetted after the recent Armistice.
Sam Fuller’s Reconstruction deliberately deconstructs the genre conventions of the War Film by portraying the fight for survival as the driving human force and not raging patriotism. He does not waive the flag in the audiences’ face. There are no profound jingoistic exclamations. Fuller dedicates THE BIG RED ONE to those who shot but didn’t get shot because surviving is the only glory in war, after all.
Final Grade: (A+)
 

 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

L'ARGENT (Robert Bresson, 1983, France)


When greed becomes the currency of the human soul, the final balance ends in the red. Director Robert Bresson adapts Tolstoy’s THE FORGED COUPON, choosing to focus mostly on the first half of the story: Bresson’s concern is with the act and consequences, not epiphany and salvation.

The film begins with a young boy asking for his allowance from his busy father. The boy asks for more to pay off a debt but the father dismisses the plea. In need of money, the boy trades his watch to a friend for a forged bank note; thus setting into motion the machinations of murder. Bresson shows callous regard for human nature when values are replaced by dollar signs. Every character who touches the bank note becomes corrupted, as if the desire for profit was a deadly biological virus without a cure. Bresson depicts the boy, store clerk, store owners, and ultimately Yvon as superficially innocuous but ultimately debased. Each character has a chance to redeem themselves and speak the truth but are motivated by selfish desires or the fear of punishment. Yvon is convicted of the misdemeanor because others would not tell the truth: it is ironic that he bears the burden of innocence but falls the hardest. Contrast his fate with the store clerk who perjures at Yvon’s trial then burglarizes the business: he ends up wealthy and comfortable, buying forgiveness. Yvon loses everything; his wife and child, his freedom, and finally his soul. Unable to seek vengeance upon his accuser, he lashes out at society and ends up destroying the one person who offered him kindness. Bresson implies that this evil is inherent within every person and can awaken with the proper stimuli.

The final shot reveals Yvon’s capture after the grisly murders, being led in handcuffs by the police. A crowd gathers for the spectacle and Yvon is marched away but the crowd doesn’t see him; they still search the empty doorway for enlightenment.


Final Grade: (B+)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (Don Chaffey, 1963, USA)


Only the gods could create a magical object that both heals and preserves peace…yet is also an instrument of war. Jason seeks to avenge the death of his father King Aristo and claim back the throne to Thessaly, to bring prosperity and justice once again to his homeland and destroy the tyrant Pelias who usurped his throne. The story begins with a seer receiving answers from the gods, and the ambitious Pelias condemning the wishes of Zeus and attempting to alter his own destiny. Pelias is told that one of Aristo's offspring would survive the siege so he orders that all children be executed. He then profanes a temple of Hera by murdering Aristo’s daughter. Pelias is finally warned by a mysterious woman to beware the man with one sandal. A wicked prelude to a children’s film!

Director Don Chaffey and the now legendary Ray Harryhausen team up to create one the greatest fantasy films of all time, their magical alchemy resulting in a wonderful adventure story infused with breathtaking special effects. Though the acting is adequate but not exemplary, it’s Harryhausen’s vibrant creatures that come to life: from the creaking iron giant Talos to the Children of the Hydra’s Teeth, these stop-motion characters are realistically articulated and beautifully designed, reacting and moving with human emotion. In one scene, Jason discovers the giant’s Achilles’ heal and, as Talos’ lifeblood gushes onto the hot sand, the iron behemoth sways and grabs his throat in pain. Another fine example is the final scene as a group of skeletons attack Jason and his cohorts: one skeleton is stabbed through the heart and reacts accordingly and another clutches a wounded arm, like vestigial pain remembered from a previous life. The monsters are an extension of Harryhausen’s brilliance as an artist: he breathes his own life into the soft clay of nonliving matter. Bernard Herrmann adds the final touches to this extravaganza with a bombastic score devoid of his usual string section, utilizing clashing symbols and percussion to accentuate the Argonauts heroism while allowing subtle woodwinds to create suspense and melodrama: this is one of his best scores. 


Jason curses the gods though he accepts the services of Hera to complete his quest, but it’s his own relentless courage that allows him to persevere…and win the heart of the lovely woman. Jason believes that he is a free man...but the vicious gods have other plans. 

Final Grade: (B+)

Monday, June 26, 2017

GET OUT (Jordan Peele, 2017, USA)


Chris Washington is a photographer who captures the world in black and white; little does he know he will soon become victimized by the same dichotomy. First time Director Jordan Peele develops a masterful narrative that works both as a suspenseful horror/science fiction film and as allegory concerning contemporary racism and entitlement.

The story premise is rather quite simple: Chris and Rose are going to spend the weekend with her family but she has not yet divulged the fact to aforementioned family that they are an interracial couple. Though Chris, a black man, shows some slight hesitation Rose assures him that her white parents are not judgmental or prejudiced. It’s within this situation that Director/Writer Jordan Peele begins to dissect the habeas corpus of seemingly superficial prejudice that may disguise the true cancerous intentions and beliefs. Peele successfully accomplishes this by slowly constructing the relationships between Chris and Rose’s family through disquieting though not overtly intentional prejudice. Her family seems like affluent Liberals who have good intentions but come off a bit heavy-handed in their desire to show that they’re not bigoted. It’s a nice critique from Chris’ perspective because his reactions are rather mundane and unsurprising as if he’s been through this type of social interaction before. Yet it should be embarrassing from a Liberal perspective as it holds a mirror up to the culture of Entitlement. But it soon becomes obvious that their motives are specifically odious and far from inclusive.

The first two acts brilliantly build the tension through disarming and uncomfortable dialogue and possibly misunderstood observation. Chris begins to believe that something sinister is happening but his fears are put to bed by Rose, who seems to say all of the right things to allay his concerns. Though there are a few contrivances, credibility in Chris’s actions seem rational. Peele has written a solid script that on one hand defies scientific plausibility yet creates realistic characters that act uniformly intelligently within its fictional boundaries. Then it’s in the final act that blood is shed by all involved.

So what is the film about? Firstly, this is a nerve wracking thriller that is a joy to watch. All of the actors are excellent but Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington truly steals the film as the empathetic protagonist. He has to balance sensitivity and bitterness and not portray himself as prejudiced himself by jumping to conclusions or losing patience with the family too quickly. Alison Williams as Rose also has the task of being the perfect girlfriend but not "too perfect" thus calling attention to her true intentions. And Lil Rel Howery is excellent as the best friend that we all wish we had! Secondly, the film is about relationships and social convention. What is truly unsettling is that Peele writes a very natural and loving relationship between two people and agonizingly subverts it. That is part of the real horror. Can we ever trust the one we love? Roses' nuclear and extended family are also ripe with smug condescension and kindly superiority, treating Chris like an outsider but expecting him to not be bright enough to realize it. Lastly, the film is about slavery. It’s about subsumation of an entire race and culture hidden neatly behind a Liberal façade. The Armitage family doesn’t just own their victims’ physicality; they literally own their minds too.

GET OUT balances uncomfortable humor and violent thrills and gives us an ending that is neither benign nor resigned. We are left pondering Chris’ fate and hope that the conspiracy isn’t able to rearrange the crime scene before a Just verdict is allowed. Fortunately Chris finds the strength to resist and fight back and doesn’t need a well-intentioned white intervention to save him: he has transitioned from victim to survivor.

Final Grade: (A)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

WHITE DOG (Sam Fuller, 1982, USA)



A parable condemning racism’s vicious bite as being much worse (though no less immoral) than its bark. Director Sam Fuller’s mauling narrative begins with a neutral gray screen haunted by simple black and white text. Suddenly off-screen, tires screech on rough blacktop and we hear the painful whimpering of an injured animal.

Kristy McNichol plays Julie, an aspiring actress, whose compassion in rescuing the injured animal soon saves her own life…and eventually takes another’s. As she begins to understand the complexities of this beautiful dog, she seeks the help of a professional animal trainer names Keys, wonderfully portrayed by Paul Winfield. Fuller’s metaphor is as subtle as the Holocaust, showing the killing ovens of the local animal shelter, the possible fate for this German Shepard; a fate that Julie will do anything to avoid, her heart bursting with empathy for this animal whom she believes is victim, trained to be something that is inherently against its nature. Fuller often cuts to extreme close-up of all three characters: Keys, Julie, and the dog, as they share such intelligent and profound deep brown eyes, a two-way mirror to their souls. The violence is brutal and unflinching as the dog’s white fur becomes matted with bright red gore, its menacing snarl exposing the sharp incisors that cut and tear like cruel weapons. When a black man is killed by the dog (in a Church under the watchful avatar of Saint Frances of Assisi, no less!), Keys, Julie, and Carruthers (another dog trainer), become accomplices to this savage death even though their goal is to cure the dog. It’s a moral dilemma that the characters continue to struggle with throughout the film and Fuller doesn’t offer any tepid answer.

Through ferocious trial and error, Keys risks his own life to break the dog of its racist upbringing by showing it love and kindness. And here I believe the film is misunderstood: as the dog is finally freed of its inhumane bondage, it escapes Julie’s heartfelt embrace and attacks Carruthers, bulbously acted by Burl Ives. But Fuller introduces us to the original master of the dog a few minutes earlier: an overweight middle-aged man with two freckled daughters, and he looks very much like Carruthers. Does the dog now attack any white man, its training irrevocably reversed, or was it seeking revenge by mistakenly identifying Carruthers as its original racist mentor? Depending on your interpretation, the whole mood of the film is altered. And herein lays the power of Art, to examine these subterranean deep-rooted issues, as we should seek to come together as the human race and obliterate racism and bigotry.

Final Grade: (A)

Monday, June 19, 2017

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (Sam Fuller, 1953, USA)


The brash and maniacal pickpocket Skip McCoy, who soft hands hit like bricks, knocks out Candy’s sweet tooth. Director Sam Fuller’s communist exposé is as subtle as a punch in the jaw, dirty as one-room flophouse, and laced with profane dialogue that punctures like a Tattoo shop’s bloody needle.

The mundane plot device is a roll of microfilm unknowingly lifted from Candy’s purse; just another mark for three time loser Skip McCoy who gets more than money: his life now becomes a desperate negotiation as flammable as nitrate. Fuller centers his narrative upon the seedy characters that inhabit this dank underworld of society, the predators who live in the rush of the moment with violent death as their obligatory destination. Candy is a prostitute who vainly attempts to separate herself from an abusive boyfriend, her last favor to finalize some shady business deal.

Fuller begins the film with a claustrophobic tenseness aboard a rushing subway, cutting to extreme close-up and crowded medium shot, his visual exposition clearly introducing the setup: two detectives stalking Candy. Then in wanders the wild card, a pickpocket who by happenstance lifts her wallet and gets the big score. Fuller expertly cuts to medium shot and again to close-up of Skip’s hands massaging the purse, wicked eyes searing the screen, as the clacking of steel assaults the soundtrack. As a neat aside, look for the soldier from the Big Red One, Fuller’s regiment during WWII, as an extra aboard the congested train. Skip makes his escape and the police bring in Moe, an elderly woman who sells inexpensive silk ties as a front, like nooses upon those deserving of their fate, but her information doesn’t come cheap. Thelma Ritter as Moe steels the film, imbuing it with a graceful humanity, a woman of character and charm who only wants to be buried in a real cemetery and not a Potter’s Field. Richard Widmark as Skip is a brutal and leering man, full of selfish desires. His nemesis is Captain Tiger of the NYPD who knows another minor conviction will put this scumbag away for life. And poor Candy is a woman who has lost her flavor, but never her morals.

Fuller wants to show that there is indeed honor among thieves, but patriotism to the collective government who punishes them is running on empty. Though criminals, the anti-heroes of the story remain honest to their own testimony, and once Skip understands that Candy sacrificed herself for him, and Moe sadly did the same, he is out for vengeance. Fuller depicts the tough talking police as a streetwise gang, professionals who are becoming the very thing they prosecute. But even these losers look down upon Communists who wish to betray their country, and the hierarchy from police to criminal to Red is fundamental. But more importantly, Skip and Candy get the last word and remain true to themselves…while Moe is buried with respect. 

Final Grade: (B)

Friday, June 16, 2017

ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY (Akira Kurosawa, 1947, Japan)


Two lovers are an unfinished symphony in the ruins of post-war Japan, mired in the emotional fallout of despair and suffering, struggling to see the world not as it is…but as it should be. Director Akira Kurosawa attempts to imbue his film with the robust humanity of Frank Capra, as Yuzo and Masako are nitrate reflections of George and Mary Bailey, but instead of showing us a lifetime Kurosawa shows us a day in the life.

The story is set on a Sunday afternoon, the weekly meeting for this poor couple, where the day begins well but grows gradually darker both in spirit and weather. The opening shot is of Yuzo staring at a discarded cigarette butt, the pain of indignity upon his face, which mirrors the knowledge that he has been reduced to grubbing for trash. But along comes Masako, full of vibrant energy and life-affirming beauty, to temporarily quell his quiet desperation. The camera follows them throughout the day as they struggle with only a few yen: Yuzo feeling less than a man because they have to use her money and Masako wearing the mask of cheerfulness. Together they play husband and wife in a prototype house that they will never afford, visit the zoo where the animals seem more content than they, get ripped off by scalpers at a Schubert concert, and then can’t afford a tiny meal at a local café. Leaving his coat behind, they walk through a dreary night and into the ruins of a courtyard, where they dream of opening their own café, treating customers with respect and dignity.

Kurosawa doesn’t hide the darker elements of their relationship, as Yuzo invites her back to his room and makes a sexual pass: it is obvious that she is still a virgin and their relationship has not yet been consummated. She runs tearfully from the room and Kurosawa holds the camera on Yuzo’s isolation for five minutes, as he listens to the rain drum its nervous rhythm upon the leaking tin roof. But Masako is the stronger of the two and returns…he doesn’t run after her! Wandering in the lower depths of despair, they meet a starving war orphan and Masako’s selfless sacrifice brings a tiny light of kindness to this child’s dirty face.
 
Yuzo is a stark realist, knowing that dreams don’t fill an empty stomach, but Masako is his counterpoint, his hope, and his raison d’être. In the windswept night they find a deserted band shell and she sits attentively while he vainly attempts to imagine an orchestra playing Schubert, but the only sound is the rustle of dead leaves and the soft murmur of cold wind. Here, Kurosawa breaks the narrative’s fourth wall and like Wendy in PETER PAN, Masako speaks directly to the audience. But she doesn’t ask for complicity, she begs and pleads for help, their very lives depending upon the audience clapping so Yuzo can hear the imaginary orchestra. This device contradicts the film’s morality in that strength must be found within and together, not by some outside force: though heartfelt, it falls on a completely flat note. Finally, the string section swells and they are happy once again, ready to face another Sunday together.
 
Final Grade: (C)
 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

RECORD OF A LIVING BEING (Akira Kurosawa, 1955, Japan)

 
Nakajima suffer the fallout from his nuclear family, consumed by fear that eats the soul. Director Akira Kurosawa’s concise character study puts an aging patriarch, Kiichi Nakajima (a volatile performance from legendary Toshiro Mifune, playing a man twice his actual age!), on trial for loving his family so much that it destroys them.

Nakajima is a successful foundry owner whose life was forged by fire and steel, and whose family (both consanguineous and illegitimate) lives comfortably off his fortune. But they move to have him sanctioned when he begins spending his life-savings building bomb shelters and eventually planning to move the entire clan to South America…against their will. Nakajima is consumed by fear of nuclear war, the ultimate disintegration of social mores and family values. His life has come to a spiritual halt, paralyzed and frightened beyond endeavor: Kurosawa begs the question, is Nakajima irrational or hyper rational? He could liquidate few assets and move himself to safety but his desire is in saving his extended family, in selling his factory and starting a new life on a farm in a foreign country, safe (at least, for now) from the H-bomb. In one transcendental scene, after he is declared incompetent, he diminishes his role as patriarch and begs his children to move with him, prostrate on the floor: it is a humiliating display. He fails to pursued them and sets his foundry ablaze, burning down his life in hope of convincing them to join his exile. Finally, Nakajima is institutionalized with a fractured mind and he believes himself safe from harm, but cries for those left on earth who are burning, burning, burning…
 
Kurosawa casts Takashi Shimura as a dentist, a volunteer mediator for the local family court who will have to make a decision on Nakajima’s case. He brings a humble sensibility that contrasts Mifune’s tempest, allowing the issue to be examined objectively. Are his actions unfounded? There are no answers and Kurosawa doesn’t preach or offer any trite resolution: it’s important enough just to present the question. Fumio Hayasaka’s Theremin score induces a disquiet and unsettling dis-ease, upsetting rational expectations. The final shot of a split staircase, the older Shimura descending as the young mistress ascends isn’t an explanation, only a glimmer of hope for the future. Maybe the only thing to fear is fear itself.

Final Grade: (B+)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

SCANDAL (Akira Kurosawa, 1950, Japan)


A morally bankrupt attorney sells himself to the highest bidder and must face the consequences without appeal. Akira Kurosawa condemns the media with this scathing indictment of yellow journalism; a cautionary tale of cancerous reporting that destroys reputations with its malignancy.

Ichiro and Miyako embark upon an innocent rendezvous that is photographed by paparazzi, alleging a fictional tryst. Ichiro is a well-known painter whose rebellious nature is represented by his growling motorcycle, and Miyako is a waifish pop star. The problems with the film are evident in its first reel as Ichiro is surrounded by a group of farmers while painting his masterpiece…atop a desolate mountain. Suddenly Miyako stumbles upon the scene, well off the road, and says she has missed her bus. This questionable setup is absurd: the uncultured farmers have nothing better to do than discuss painting, and a famous singer is wandering an isolated country road looking for a ride? Is there such a thing as a celebrity painter whose life would matter to the tabloids? Kurosawa was a fine artist and it’s obvious that Ichiro echoes the director’s own sentiments concerning the need to reinterpret reality through the human lens of abstract perception. Their careers are irrelevant since it adds nothing to the story: they could be athletes or politicians. Also, the characterizations are trite and obvious: both protagonists are painted with broad brush-strokes, undeniably good and generous and innocent of the alleged moral crime. The journalists are likewise one-dimensional, wickedness and greed their only traits. The characters aren’t complex human beings, they simply are. The film only becomes interesting halfway through when the couple hire Hiruta, a sloppy and desperate lawyer who avers his conspiratorial anger. The film’s structure is bi-polar and the first half seems only a setup to focus upon Hiruta’s ethical dilemma.

Hiruta is the convoluted persona, a man who has sacrificed himself for the almighty dollar, and a wretched lawyer who is not above stealing from his own clients. But his soul is not entirely lost: he has a sick daughter that he loves dearly and it’s revealed that most of his money is spent in caring for her. The daughter is dying of tuberculosis, bedridden for the past five years, and this is the reason that Ichiro finally decides to hire Hiruta: a man who cares for his sick child can’t be all bad. This axiom will be put to the test.

Though the film is generally a failure because of its prosaic judgments, Kurosawa’s visual language is profound. In one sublime scene, Ichiro visits Hiruta’s disheveled office that is crumbling and dirty, the ashtrays full and pictures hanging askew. Without language, Kurosawa equates the sordid environment with the spiritual turmoil that rages within Hiruta: his interior reality has tainted his exterior and Kurosawa tricks the audience into a quick assumption. Ichiro’s expression is one of dissatisfaction until he sees a photograph of the sickly child, and it’s this splinter of decency that empowers him to hire the bumbling attorney. Also, the final courtroom scenes are ambitious and tense, not in revealing the verdict but in witnessing Hiruta’s internal struggle.

Finally, the attorney must lose everything: his family, his money, the last remnants of dignity, and his job…to discover that his child’s faith wasn’t misplaced. In a sweltering courtroom before a higher authority Hiruta finds himself at last.


Final Grade: (B-)