Friday, May 24, 2013

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: Pale Flower (1964)

Pale Flower (1964)
Directed by: Masahiro Shinoda.
Written by: Masaru Baba & Masahiro Shinoda based on the novel by Shintarô Ishihara.
Starring: Ryô Ikebe (Muraki), Mariko Kaga (Saeko), Takashi Fujiki (Yoh), Mikizo Hirata (Mizuguchi), Sôhei Kurata (Hayakawa), Shin'ichirô Mikami (Reiji).

Masahiro Shinoda’s Pale Flower is a different kind of yakuza film than I am used to seeing. Yes, there is violence in the film – and the climax shockingly so – but this is more about impending doom than anything else. A story of a forever loyal yakuza hit man, just out of prison, who seemingly has little personality, and the fiery young woman who attracts him to her like a moth to a flame, that will, of course, ultimately lead to his doom. Pale Flower is definitely a Japanese noir.

The movie stars Ryo Ikebe as Muraki, just out of jail after spending three years there for killing a rival gang member. He did the time because his boss pretty much ordered him to take the fall, and now he’s out, and while everyone seems to welcome him back, they don’t really seem to care. They have a new hit man who can do Muraki’s job just as well – but hell, he’s there, and they could always use new fall guys.

Muraki is a gambling addict, who frequents the smoke back room gambling parlors of Tokyo, playing a strange game involving flowered tiles that even after watching Pale Flower – which spends a lot of time watching these games – I have no idea what the rules are. However, that doesn’t really matter all that much – these gambling scenes as mesmerizing anyway, much like poker in the right movie, can be mesmerizing. It doesn’t matter how much you understand, the characters are what matter. Like all gambling addicts, Muraki doesn’t seem all that happy when he wins, nor all that sad when he loses. He isn’t there to win per se; he’s there because he has to be.
Into Muraki’s life walks Saeko (the gorgeous Mariko Kaga), who stands out in the gambling dens not only because she’s a woman (although she is the only one), but that she’s a beautiful, sexy 19 year old. These two share an instant spark with each other, and yet they never have sex with each other. The sex is replaced by the thrill of gambling – whether in the dens or on the streets in an epic drag race they get involved in. When they do fall into bed together, they do it to hide from the police.

Saeko is as wild and jubilant and Muraki is cool and contained, and perhaps that’s what draws them to each other. They feel that need, that desire in each other, and help to fill the void. She isn’t really a femme fatale, in that I don’t really think she seals his doom for him – he was headed there anyway, she may have just helped things along.

Pale Flower is a fascinating, engrossing movie from start to finish. Those looking for the typical slam-bang, all action yakuza flick are going to be disappointed. This is a film more about mood and tone and impending death than violence. Yet it is expertly crafted by Shinoda, in his first major work, who would go on and direct other acclaimed film (including Samurai Spy and Double Suicide – both of which I intend to check out at some point). It is a wonderful little film.

No comments:

Post a Comment