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August 28, 2009

I am Waiting

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Ore wa matteru ze
Koreyoshi Kurahara - 1957
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

The French influence on I am Waiting is announce in the first accordion notes of the title song. The film may have been a vehicle for star Yujiro Ishihara, but it seem like writer Shintaro Ishihara could well have had Jean Gabin and Simone Signoret in mind. The literary Ishihara was a self-proclaimed existentialist and fan of Jean-Paul Sartre. A more obvious nod to French culture comes in the form of an excerpt from the opera Carmen, heard on the radio.

Joji runs a small joint called Restaurant Reef. It may not quite be the end of the line, but it seems like the gathering place for people who really have no where else to go. Walking alone late, on a cold, rainy night, Joji notices a young woman looking like she's about to stroll in the the sea. Joji talks her out of what may be an attempt at suicide, and takes her in, where she works as a waitress. Gradually, it is revealed that both Joji, and the young woman, Reiko, are running away from their pasts. Joji was a champion boxer who killed a man in a bar brawl, while Reiko was a former opera singer who, due to a voice damaging illness, has been reduced to a forced contract with a small time mobster who owns a small cabaret. On a couple of occasions, Reiko describes herself as a "canary who lost her voice". Joji and Reiko learn that they are connected in other ways in addition to the attraction they have for each other.

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The film reveals the past of Joji and Reiko through the most public and indiscriminate of means, mass media. At a movie theater, Joji winces while watching a newsreel about one of his past fights. Reiko loses her composure hearing herself singing Carmen. Both could be said to be former performers who have chosen to flee the spotlight for more anonymous lives. Having Reiko describe her self as a canary could possibly also be a nod to Edith Piaf, the "little sparrow", with the relationship of a singer with a boxer being inspired by Piaf's own relationship with Marcel Cerdan. The French influence on I am Waiting can be seen with Joji first serving Reiko not tea or sake, but cognac, the black sweater Reiko wears, and the haircuts of the men, combed down across the forehead. I am Waiting is a Japanese film that indirectly is about mass media, both as it affects the lives of the characters, and how western culture has permeated Japanese life.

Like several other films written by Shintaro Ishikawa, starring Yujiro Ishikawa, I am Waiting was produced by Takiko Mizunoe. Her role as a female staff producer at Nikkatsu, as well as being an actress and singer, warrant more information than is listed at IMDb. That Mizunoe's last known credit as a producer was Branded to Kill, the film that also ended Seijun Suzuki's career at Nikkatsu, should be noted. Faces that reappear in the other "Nikkatsu Noir" series include Naoki Sugiura and Michitaro Mizushima. I am Waiting was the second film to pair Mie Kitahara with Yujiro Ishihara, and the first to have them as top billed stars. There is little written in English on director Koreyoshi Kurahara aside from Mark Schilling's piece in No Borders, No Limits, and a review of several films at The Auteurs. Also leaving Nikkatsu in 1967, Kurahara transitioned from making low budget, youth oriented films to respectability with his film Antarctica which was Japan's Oscar entry from 1983, and the source for the English language remake, Eight Below. Even with a country seemingly better documented in its film history as Japan, there is evidence that there is more exploration needed.

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Posted by peter at August 28, 2009 12:55 AM