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April 23, 2015

Fire Line


Kasen chitai
Hiromichi Takebe - 1961
Beam Entertainment All Region DVD

Taking the opportunity to see and write about something purely by choice, I took this DVD I've had for well over a year, but hadn't gotten around to seeing. I wrote about three other films in the Shintoho "Line" series, and this entry is equally entertaining.

Cowritten by Teruo Ishii, the screenplay credit is shared with director Hiromichi Takebe. There is very little about Takebe that I could find online. What little I could glean would indicate that Fire Line was one of the last releases of Shintoho prior to bankruptcy, ending the "Line" series, and apparently, Takebe's filmmaking career.

The film begins with the sound of gunfire while we see the Shintoho logo, instead of the usual studio fanfare. Cutting immediate to footage shot at a racetrack, the thought ran through my head that this might be a Japanese version of something like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Instead, we are introduced to two punks, Shinichi and Kenji, who have a scam involving phony racetrack betting. They're caught by a hood dressed in black who suckers them when it turns out that his gun is actually a cigarette lighter. The pair is soon chased down by a yakuza gang. Shinichi has a gun and is able to ward then off long enough to hide temporarily in town. The yakuza catches up with the two who hide out in a car, a car that turns out to belong to Yumi, the girlfriend of the chief of a rival yakuza gang. Shinichi and Kenji are invited to join the gang, which almost immediately puts them into more trouble.

I'm not sure where Fire Line was filmed, but based on some of the locations, with nearby docks, I would guess some of the exteriors were in and around Yokohama. As in the other films of the "Line" series, there is a documentary quality to the exterior footage. One shot definitely appears to have been shot with the camera carried by the cinematographer, chasing after the actors. Some of the interior, studio based shots, would seem to have been composed under the influence of John Huston, with the use of space and especially the use of several characters within a shot, with the use of contrasting positions and sizes.

Several of the actors from the "Line" movies are here. While Teruo Yoshida, as Shinichi, is the nominal star, the narrative mostly shifts to being about Yumi, played by series regular Yoko Mihara. There is a psychological can of worms that gets opened later in the film, when Shinichi confesses to wanting to kill the mother who abandoned him as a young boy. There is the suggestion that Shinichi's attraction to the more sophisticated, and somewhat older Yumi may be some kind of transference. Compounding that is Yumi's calling her gang boss lover "Papa", giving this movie a bit of Oedipal subtext.

Even without reading too much into this story of gang rivalries, double crosses and unrequited love, there is enough going on in Fire Line to indicate that there is more here than what was presented as a low budget exploitation film for less than discerning viewers.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 23, 2015 05:59 AM