Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PALE FLOWER (Masahiro Shinoda, 1964, Japan)

One man's lust, his body condemned to a walled existence, a thirst that can never be slaked, grasps a withered flower in one cold hand. Director Masahiro Shinoda’s film noir thriller paints an existential portrait of grim addiction where flesh and money become interchangeable, purchased at the cost of a soul.

Muraki’s samurai loyalty incarcerates his morality, locked-up behind concrete and barbed wire, a man who has everything to lose and nothing to gain. Released from prison for the murder of a rival gang member, Muraki earns the respect of his peers and the adoration of a mysterious woman, balanced precariously between duty and desire. Saeko (psycho?) is a fragile beauty with the tensile strength of steel, her large eyes mirrors that reflect nothing, placid waters with an invisible riptide that drown Muraki. He falls deeper and deeper into these unfathomable depths, an animal trapped in a race for another’s profit.

Shinoda sacrifices story for style, every shot a well composed composition, utilizing mise en scene as language that supersedes dialogue. He conveys a grim atmosphere thick with cigarette smoke and sweat, claustrophobic interiors that traps Muraki in a prison cell: a free man who has become his own jailor. Shinoda affects a brutal realism of this underworld realm, haunted by men barely alive. He uses a dog race as a metaphor concerning the yakuza, as the bosses gamble money where their benefit is another’s fatal loss. The musical score is chilling and surreal, giving the film an eerie haunted quality that foreshadows the Shakespearean tragic romance.

Muraki’s choice is really no choice, a victim of his own self-fulfilling prophecy. His freedom balances on the edge of a knife, and his sanity is consumed by a wicked desire that can no longer be satisfied.

Final Grade: (B+)

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