Sunday, January 18, 2015



iam1In recent years I’ve seen a critical push to apply familiar terms like Film Noir to all manner of Japanese crime films made during the 1950s and 60s. The term has even been applied to the culturally specific Sun Tribe films (please see my previous post that discusses Sun Tribe films), Pink Films of an adult nature and the more experimental and political films that exemplify the Japanese New Wave. I don’t always agree with this “roping in” because it often limits our understanding of Japanese cinema which contains historical and cultural influences that often defy simplistic categorizations. But sometimes the term fits.
It’s worth remembering that after WW2 the Japanese film industry was largely controlled by the U.S. occupation forces and Japanese filmmakers faced immense pressure from American censors to make films that resembled Hollywood‘s own output at the time. And in postwar America Film Noir was thriving. The concentrated effort to destroy much of Japan’s cinematic history and modernize the country led to an onslaught of gun totting detectives, dangerous dames and cutthroat criminals in Japanese cinema that began replacing the sword wielding samurais, kimono clad ladies and gentle families that had previously populated the movies. Amid these changes filmmakers created their own distinct body of work that became more progresses and subversive after the American occupation ended. But the impact of Hollywood’s aggressively imposed influence is undeniable and in this postwar climate elements of Film Noir became deeply rooted within the Japanese film industry. One particularly striking example of this is Koreyoshi Kurahara’s I AM WAITING (1957), which makes its debut on TCM January 18th (1am PST/4am EST).

I AM WAITING opens on the dark damp docks of Yokohama where Jôji Shimaki (Yujiro Ishihara) is closing up his Reef Restaurant for the night. As he makes his way over derelict bridges and down twisty rain soaked streets to a postal box to mail off a letter, he spots a lovely dame (Mie Kitahara) standing by the water’s edge. She’s wet, tired and plainly distraught so kindly Jôji invites her back to his place where he offers her a drink and a warm meal. When the two start talking Jôji coaxes the woman into telling him her somber tale of woe and over the course of the film she eventually learns his solemn story as well. She’s a once proud opera star who is now forced to sing in dingy nightclubs after losing her voice while being pursued by all manner of lowlifes. He’s a one-time boxing champion who accidentally killed a man in a bar fight and was forced to go into the restaurant business. She’s lost all hope but Joji maintains a fragile optimism while waiting to hear from his older brother who traveled to Brazil a year ago in an attempt to buy some farmland where the two siblings could start a new life together. Unfortunately for Joji, his brother refuses to answer his letters and may have gone missing along with the family’s fortune. Is the beautiful melancholy girl that mysteriously walked into Joji’s life his salvation or his doom?

1 comment:

RJR said...

If it's Noir, she's his doom. If she's his salvation, it ain't Noir.