A poor miner who has deserted from the military is caught in the telephoto lens of a man in white, and suffers a cruel fate of eternal hunger, reduced to the motions of an insect forever struggling in a pool of dirty water. Hiroshi Teshigahara weaves a tale of ghostly polemic and procedural melodrama that results in a nihilistic Capitalist creed muttered with smug delight: “Exactly as planned”.
The story begins in chiaroscuro terror with an frantic tracking shot as a nameless man and his boy race from some unknown terror. The man is a deserter from the Army and begins work in a small mine, he and his cohort scamming the landowner with the promise of discovering a rich vein of coal. As the boy molds the soft clay into ghastly shapes, a stranger in a white suite is photographing them, obscured by tombstones in a garden of death. Is this a bounty hunter searching for AWOL soldiers, or something more sinister? With this setup the film begins to cross into surreal territory, as Teshigahara utilizes stock footage of mining disasters, condemning the system which enslaves men without recourse to law or appeal. The miner and his boy are eventually lured into a ghost town dominated by a mountain of slag with a moat of filth, and he is murdered by the man in white. As his spirit rises from his body, he can only look at the heap of dead flesh that was once is body and wonder why. He wanders back into town and towards the candy store, now full of other spirits going through reverberations of life like dutiful insects.
The story then shifts to a journalistic procedural when reporters investigate the murder and discover this nameless man is a twin of a powerful Union leader, and this nobody may have been murder by mistake. This leads to a violent denouement between Union leaders in a muddy lake, the mud like rancid earth-blood, clotted and thick. And the ghosts can only watch, no longer able to alter events, silent sentinels drowning in self-pity, unable (or unwilling) to understand.
Teshigahara’s bleak monochrome cinematography perfectly presents a corrupt world where people are silhouetted against turgid skies, tiny and insignificant atop huge piles of slag and coke. Or the bloodstained transition into the ghost world, the miner’s identity never revealed even in this static afterlife, desperately attempting interaction with others. Teshigahara turns the world upside down through a knothole, and depicts the police as another form of corrupt power, photographing the rape scene from above in a voyeuristic stoicism without edit, unflinching and remorseless.
There is a sad beauty that burns through the film, a smoldering rage that ends with the man in white making his declaration…and a boy witness to the violence running towards an unknown future, an orphan who could become the next assassin.
Final Grade: (A)