Friday, June 11, 2010

REVIEW: Intentions of Murder

赤い殺意 (Akai Satsui)

Released: 1964

Shohei Imamura

Masumi Harukawa
Kô Nishimura

Shigeru Tsuyuguchi
Yûko Kusunoki
Ranko Akagi

Running time: 150 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

I started a new little saying a month or two ago. WWRTD? What would Riki Takeuichi do? A good, solid saying, that can help you get through the darkest of nights. So how does this tie into Shohei Imamura’s "Intentions of Murder"? Whilst Imamura has proclaimed himself as someone interested in telling stories of the nether regions, socially, culturally, and biologically, his stories work because they still deal with universal situations, using simple stories, but told in layered and profound ways. So what would Shohei Imamura do when faced with the task of telling the tale of a woman, trapped in a loveless, soul sucking relationship, confined by her social status and the culture she belongs to, inescapable of escape her situation? WWSID?

Sadako (Masumi Haragawa) is a peasant, born to a life of servitude. She is quickly brought into an upper class family to serve as their maid, however their horny bugger of a son, Koichi (Ko Nishimura) soon forces himself upon her and impregnates her. Of course that just won’t do, so she’s forced to marry into the family, which includes an often cruel and condescending mother in-law who views her with nothing but contempt. They even add her sickly infant son Masaru to the family register, but exclude her. She seems trapped in this loveless relationship, going through the motions, until one night a thief, Hiraoka (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi) breaks in, looking only for money, but taking Sadako’s body instead. When he leaves, Sadako chooses not to tell anyone, instead opting to keep herself from reaching new levels of shame and contempt. She contemplates suicide, but at the moment of truth she can’t go through with it, and instead opts to satisfy one of life’s most basic needs. Hunger. From that point on, it’s an Imamura descent into liberation through the most primal of urges.

"Intentions of Murder" is the anti-Mizoguchi film. Like Mizoguchi’s classic heroine of "Life of Oharu", Sadako endures the hardships she faces, rather than raging against them. However unlike Mizoguchi, she finds transcendence through the most primal of needs: sex and food. Stylistically it is raw, gritty and teeming with realism, despite the sometimes-surreal imagery and juxtaposed flashbacks. But despite the seeming quintessential Imamura feel of a documented realism, this film, like most of his, is incredibly layered and meticulously crafted. If the vast amounts of animalistic/encroaching industrial advancement dualism are rampant in this film, it’s most definitely supported by the dualistic approach to Imamura’s style. Contradictions abound, and its this incredible eye for detail both narratively and cinematically that contrasts the raw, gritty feel of immediacy that is exuded by each frame. Even such concisely crafted shots such as the long tracking shot along the train platform, as Hiraoka chases down the pregnant Sadako, is punctuated by the occasional flash of the camera and its operator reflecting in the windows and metallic sidings of the train. It also boasts some incredible use of darkness highlighted by accents of light, and the juxtaposition between the seemingly dimwitted and overweight Sadako who maintains all signs of mental and physical stamina versus those of all the male characters, including her son Masaru, who are all inflicted by some kind of physical ailment is damming, but never judgmental. Imamura has been called an anthropological filmmaker, and this film is reason why.

"Intentions of Murder" could be trying for some. Its 2 ½ hours long, and Sadako’s refusal to act out and strike back at her aggressor and the system that forces her into confinement I’m sure will be frustrating to some, but the film is so richly designed and executed, its incredibly rewarding. Some will probably take offense to her near acceptance of the thief and his rape of her, but those who do are taking what they view at face value and are missing an entire world of cinematic goodness.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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