Usugesho/Tracked

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Usugesho,” the title of Gosha Hideo’s 1985 movie means cosmetics, rather than “Tracked,” its English title. Late in the slow-paced movie, there is a juxtaposition of a man and a woman applying mascara to their eyebrows. A young girl sees the male protagonist doing this and he asks her if she wants to look beautiful and applies some mascara to her eyebrows, too… while holding her throat, stimulating dread in the viewer that he will strangle her to keep her quiet about his camouflage.

I don’t see how darker eyebrows will make Sakane Tokichi (Ken Ogata, who has a prominent mole at the top of his nose) less visible, and he is being pursued (if not quite “tracked”) through the course of the movie. (Ogata had already been chases through a whole movie as the serial killer in Imamura’s “Vengeance Is Mine” (1979).)

It begins with him running from an explosion of a wooden shack in a mining camp. The viewer soon learns that he blew up his wife, young son, and two neighbors. Flashbacks provide some sympathy for murdering his harridan of a wife. I’m not sure why audiences (including me) tend to sympathize with fleeing from massive manhunts, however heinous the crime(s). The brutality of the police interrogation of the prisoner tied to a chair as he is battered around encourages some sympathy, as does the challenge (not shown) of burrowing 70 feet from his prison cell.

And, then, Sakane treats several vulnerable people well as he moves from worksite to worksite (I thought that Japan had much tighter household registration than appears in the film!). Even if his wife “deserved” to die, however, there is no way his son did—along with the “collateral damage” of two other deaths.

The detective (Asano Atsuko) on his trail does not do anything to seem more sympathetic, though his retired supervisor (Kawatani Takukô) opines that Sakane simply had the bad luck of not finding a “good woman” and may not be a vicious killer, as the detective still on the job maintains. Leaving aside his murder, Sakane seems selfish sometimes, kindly sometimes, penitent but conniving, patient but quick-tempered… and if he had a trial (rather than escaping before one), no attempt to explain himself is in the film script.

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Not surprisingly (for a Japanese movie), a woman compromises his safety. Sakane loves barmaid (/owner?) Chei (Fuju Mariko) and leaves her for her own good (and, coincidentally, making it harder to track him).

I found the pace slow, despite the jarring juxtaposition of past and present (i.e., the flashbacks) and it slows to glacial in the final quarter, as if Gosha was unwilling to let go of the character, though evidencing no interest in taking any position on whether he had been reborn or was still the killer being hunted by the law(man).

Satô Masura provided a rich soundtrack to the endeavor and Marita Fujio more than serviceable cinematography, but I found the film less compelling than earlier Gosha examinations of identity, such as “Sword of the Beast,” “Goyokin” and “Hitokori.”

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(Though I’ve never seen Gosha referred to as having been part of the Japanese New Wave, his recurrent focus on doom, erotic sadomasochism, and fragile identity fits with the works of Ôshima, Imamura, and Shinoda.)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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