Sunday, August 28, 2011

REVIEW: Intimidation

ある脅迫 (Aru kyouhaku)

Released: 1960

Koreyoshi Kurahara

Nobuo Kaneko
Kojiro Kusanagi
Ko Nishimura
Mari Shiraki
Zenji Yamada

Running time: 65 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

I can't help but feel that the cracking opening of "Intimidation" is director Koreyoshi Kurahara's own attempt to throw down in front of his peer directors - "So you think you can make a noirish crime thriller? Well look at this!" The blast of a train whistle kick starts the fast paced affair as the camera rides the back of a locomotive through a wintry country side and mountain tunnels while the blaring soundtrack accompanies the ride. As the train pulls into the station (and delivers a character that will begin the chain of events), you know you're in for a ride. It's a short one (the film is a mere 65 minutes long), but there won't be many stopovers or delays before getting to the final destination. In fact, the train is also where our main characters meet their fates at the end of the movie and, in the greatest tradition of noir, they are appropriate to their actions.

One of those main characters is Takita who is an assistant manager at a district bank and has just received a promotion to head office. The promotion may be a bit questionable since he's married to the president's daughter, but that doesn't stop him from puffing out his chest and smirking just a little bit more than he normally would. On the flip side is his old friend Nakaike - a man who would rather hide in the back room during Takita's farewell party and help heat the sake. He's slightly nebbish, unsure of himself and comes across as someone who is perhaps a bit too scared to "make a move" and get what he wants out of life. Takita stole his woman (and therefore his chances of upward mobility) and his sister won't forgive him since she was with Takita at the time and now has to make do with simply being his mistress. Takita makes it seem as if he is doing Nakaike a favour by still addressing him in friendly terms and offers to drink with him like they were old friends. Nakaike can't help but remain in deference to his superior and when he's reminded by another superior that they are supposed to be drinking as friends, Takita gives a wonderful backhanded compliment to Nakaike: "I hate to call him slow, but I actually I like that about him."

Takita's confidence gets knocked down a few notches when he meets up with the passenger brought in earlier by the train. The shifty individual claims he has proof of some very illegal loans Takita has made and he will expose him unless he gets paid 3 million yen. Of course, Takita's only recourse is to rob his bank before he leaves for the head office. It's at this stage that the film jumps into its higher gear - it becomes a heist film with numerous small and big twists. Particularly when Takita needs to work around Nakaike who just happens to have inherited the role of night guard on the evening the theft is planned. The story shifts around as the role of intimidator moves between the characters: blackmailer over Takita; Takita over Nakaike's sister; sister over Nakaike ("you're a spineless fool"). Kurahara seems to have complete control over the pace of the plot and the switching of roles. Though he doesn't overdo the genre conventions or pile on an overabundance of style, he does bring a great deal of energy to the proceedings by using quick cuts and close framings. If it sounds like the film might be pared down to the bone at 65 minutes, it isn't. But it is efficient as hell.

Though the characters of "Intimidation" don't have much personality - Kurahara is using archetypes and playing them broad - the film still flies by with such speed and is, simply put, a great deal of fun. Whether he's cutting extra close to Takita's eyes or we watch the camera make yet another encircling move, there's always something of note happening. Kurahara's rebellious youth film "The Warped Ones" (also released in 1960) goes several steps beyond in regards to playing with style, but "Intimidation" uses it to craft its story with all the right beats. In all likelihood, Kurahara had no intention of intimidating other filmmakers via this film - given how he treats his intimidators in the film, one would expect he would know better - but it doesn't mean that we can't still be impressed by (at the time) a young artist's use of his medium.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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