Friday, May 16, 2008

REVIEW: Afraid to Die - Yasuzo Masumura (1960)

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

"Are you a man?"

"Me? Nah, I'm a Yakuza"

So says Takeo Asahina shortly after being released from prison. Trouble is, he isn't really good at being either. At least from a conventional standpoint.

On his final day in prison there is an attempt on his life - it fails, but Takeo is now concerned about going back to the real world. He was in prison for attempting to kill a rival gang boss and is now worried that revenge will be sought. Upon returning to the civilian world, he lies low and starts to make plans. His uncle - an old time yakuza played by the great Takashi Shimura - whacks him and tells him that he must go after and kill Sagara (the gang boss looking for him) that very night. "In our world the only thing that counts is who dies first".

Takeo is also juggling personal issues. After dumping his girlfriend upon leaving prison (mostly because he was afraid she might be a weak point that Sagara could exploit), he starts up a new romance with a hard working young woman. He's not exactly a smooth operator though - he rapes her and afterwards tells her "I'm sorry. But I really like you". Stranger still though, is that the young woman wants to stay with him and have his baby. The violence against her and her reaction to it is a bit hard to take, but it does show Takeo's inability to deal with just about anything. During a conversation about him in the rival gang's headquarters someone says "He's too stupid." Another gangster replies "That's what makes him dangerous."

Director Yasuzo Masumura keeps things fairly straightforward (at least compared to other films of his like "Blind Beast"), but he does add in some great touches. Whether it's the nightclub song that Takeo's ex-girlfriend sings about bananas ("they give you a pain in your belly") or the wheezy hitman sent after Takeo called Masa The Asthmatic the film has a number of little details that add to the interest as the plot adds new twists twists.

Takeo wants to leave the life, but he doesn't know how to do anything but be a yakuza. He's simply too afraid to do anything else.

Read more by Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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