A man is caught in a conspiracy of justice, divorced from reality, his life as transient as a suitcase full of stolen money. Director Nagisa Oshima’s film noir plot whose is a destination mirrored in destructive impulses, a character study of a man denied his obsession, his kamikaze life spiraling towards self-fulfilling prophecy.
The opening shot is a surreal perception of a young bride, running through the crowd to embrace a shadow, a nightmare in slow motion. Suddenly, we realize this to be a fantasy and are catapulted backwards in time to the dreamer: a young teacher who has a Lolita-like crush on a student. The post-pubescent Shoko has a secret lurking in the dark recess of her mind (and libido), a shameful burden imposed upon her by a rapist who has come back to blackmail her. Wakizaka (our protagonist) delivers the ransom money to the bestial rapist, slathered in sweat from the ubiquitous heat, then pushes him from speeding train. But his crime is witnessed by another and soon Wakizaka is blackmailed, not for money, but to keep a cache of cash for an accountant who swindled public funds. So begins the downfall of a human being.
Oshima’s exemplary use of Cinemascope compositions is used to full effect, eclipsing characters to create a claustrophobic tension and often isolating action to the periphery, relegating people to the fringe. Often bright colors flare across the screen, like neon lights painted upon glass: a characteristic of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle’s style in modern films. Oshima’s narrative is also a tribute to B-movie crime dramas, allowing the story to revolve around genre conventions with gang leaders and knife fights, and the nihilistic denouement: everybody is guilty of something; jealousy, greed, murder, or sexual abandon (or all of the aforementioned!). Though Wakizaka is a flawed hero, he is not without the audience’s compassion and relegated to the status of victim, dividing the morality tale into fractions. Wakizaka’s ejaculatory purge strips him of his humanity when he needs it most, able to purchase sex but finding it impossible to purchase love.
Final Grade: (A)