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September 15, 2011


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Aru kyouhaku
Koreyoshi Kurahara - 1960
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

I'm not alone in enjoying the use of close-ups in films. The classic example for some critics and historians is Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc. Andrew Sarris has cited Sam Fuller's use of close-ups in I Shot Jesse James. Sergio Leone's close-ups are also famous. What we're talking about here are not just shots where the face fills the frame, but also shots of the eyes, maybe the lips, the wrinkle of the brow, the facial tic.

A good portion of a robbery sequence in Intimidation is made up of close-ups. Koreyoshi Kurahara cuts to the glancing, nervous eyes of the robber, his face mostly covered by a scarf and hat. The bank employee fear is more obvious. Both are sweating. The scene could well be Koreyoshi's attempt at doing something along the lines of the heist in Riffifi. There is no dialogue, but instead the exchange of nods and glances. Kurahara's robbery is nowhere near as long as the one filmed by Jules Dassin, but I would not be surprised if the older film did influence Kurahara, an admitted Francophile, who probably saw the film a year or so before his own directorial debut.

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There are only three main characters: a thug who shows up at a small town to blackmail an assistant bank manager, the assistant bank manager who is getting ready for a promotion to manager at another bank, and a clerk who began his career at the same time as the assistant manager, a long-time friend for whom career advancement may never come. The film could be read as a look at Japanese society, where advancement is only possible by family connections, taking advantage of other people, or using various illegal means. The intimidation comes from the flow of power between the three characters here, each one getting getting the upper hand on the other, and how they use that power. All three men find themselves in situations where they feel helpless, reduced to begging for their lives.

As the assistant manager, Nobuo Kaneko looks like the kind of guy who never missed a meal in his life. Looking entirely self-satisfied, whether getting a promotion at a relatively young age, or finding that his old love, and best friend's sister, still pines for him, Kaneko has the appearance of a guy for whom getting kicked in the ass by life, actually his own misdeeds, could never come soon enough. Kojiro Kusanagi as the blackmailer looks lean and hungry. What struck me about his appearance most was his very small mouth, perhaps appropriate for one who only says what is most necessary. The real star would be Akira Nishimura as the milquetoast bank clerk whom no one takes seriously. If I hadn't had the notes that come with the DVD, I would have referred to him as THAT GUY, you know the kind of creepy guy who appears in a bunch of Akira Kurosawa movies.

Part of the fun of Intimidation is that it provided the three, who would have supporting or minor roles in much more famous films, with the chance to be the main stars. Nikkatsu Studios resident bad girl, Mari Shirakai puts in slightly more than a token appearance as the sister of the bank clerk, ashamed of the failings of her brother, but not too ashamed to throw herself at her now married former lover. The DVD is part of Eclipse's new five disc set of film by Kurahara. I hope to cover the other films in the coming weeks.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 15, 2011 08:55 AM