Monday, January 5, 2009

Shinoda Double Feature: Assassination (1964) and Pale Flower (1964)

Masahiro Shinoda's Assassination (1964).

I recently watched two films by Masahiro Shinoda, Pale Flower and Assassination, both from 1964, and I can't say I fully grasped either one. In the case of Assassination I think it comes down to my lack of detailed knowledge in Japanese history as the film deals with specific events that have their basis in other events that took place before where the film picks up. The brief introduction at the start was of some help but not enough to fully appreciate the film, of more use is the booklet that comes with the dvd as it contains an essay about the film and some historical background. It's worth mentioning also that Shinoda's film isn't meant to be fully accurate in its depiction of history but is more of a psychological study of it's main character and the times in which it takes place. I don't feel that there is any use for me to try and retell the story here since I'll just mess it up so I'll just steal the description right off the box.

"The story of Assassination begins with the events of 1853 when "four black ships" - the foreign steamboats of Commander Matthew Perry - anchored at Edo Bay, sparking civil unrest and the major political maneuvering that saw the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. At a time when assassination had become a disturbing political tool, Shinoda's film follows Hachiro Kiyokawa (Tetsuro Tamba), an ambitious, masterless samurai whose allegiances drift dangerously between the Shogunate and the Emperor."

Ryo Ikebe and Mariko Kaga Pale Flower (1964).

You can tell that it is a Shinoda film just by looking at the images, and while it's a great looking film it just doesn't engage me. Maybe it's because of the complicated story, but I had the same problem with Pale Flower. It's pretty to look at but at the same time it feels a bit empty, despite everything that is going on. In neither film are the characters people I can relate too, even though the main character in Assassination is pained by the fact he is a farmer's son who has become a samurai and that he is not taken seriously and is denied further advancement in the ranks because of it and Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) in Pale Flower who has just been released from prison and is dealing with the changes in society and his gang, something that has worked in so many films before and after, but still Shinoda fails to bring me in. Both films have interesting stories and characters worth following so maybe it's just a case of Shinoda's style or the nihilistic tendencies in his characters that loses me, or, the most likely, Shinoda is just way over my head. I'll give him another try with Double Suicide (1969).