I’m not sure why the first half of “I Am Waiting” (Ore wa matteru ze, 1957), the first film directed by Kurahara Koreyoshi (1927-2002) that is available from Criterion (Nikkatsu Noir), looked like Agnes Varda’s pioneering French “new wave” film “La Pointe-Courte” (1955). The second half looked like a noir, say one with John Garfield persevering. The bebop surrealism of later Kurahara movies, and, indeed, any jazz, is missing, though there are some of the “God’s eye” shots from on high that proliferated in later Kurahara movies.
At the start a Yokohama waterfront restaurant owner Shimaki Jôji (Ishihara Yujiro, who comes closer than any other Japanese person I’ve ever seen to having a unibrow) sees a woman (Kitahara Mie) who looks like she is about to kill herself at water’s edge. He coaxes her back from the brink and learns that she thinks she killed a man, the brother of her boss, who was attempting to rape her… and that she became a nightclub chanteuse after illness damaged her vocal chords, ending her career as an opera singer. Twice, she says she is a canary who has forgotten how to sing.
And Shimaki was a rising boxer who killed a man with his fists in a barfight (which led to his boxing license being revoked). Shibata is waiting to follow his brother to Brazil to begin a new life.
What happened to the brother turns out (surprise!) to be intertwined with the gangster nightclub boss Shibata (Nitani Hideaki) who forces the woman (Reiko/Saeko) back to fulfill her contract.
There is also an alcoholic doctor (played by (Kosugi Isamu), akin to the one Shimura Takashi played in Kurosawa’s (1948) “Drunken Angel.” The desperation of Saeko and Jôji seemed to me in a direct line from Kurosawa’s “Scandal” (1950) and “Stray Dog” (1949). Which is to say that “I Am Waiting” does not seem to me to notably depart from earlier work by the master, so not “Japanese new wave” (as the 1960 “Warped Ones” and successors do).
Ishihara is sometimes stolid, but often quite emotional. His frequent costar/love interest, Kitahara, on the other hand becomes pretty impassive after forced back to work in Shibata’s nightclub. The visual compositions must owe much to Takamura Kuratarô (Rusty Knife, Tattooed Life) and the screenplay was written by future Tokyo mayor (governor) Ishihara Shintarô (who had also written the big hit for his younger brother “Crazed Fruit” and would write “Rusty Knife” and “Pale Flower” and who had won the Akutagawa Prize, for Season of the Sun, which he adapted for the screen in a movie in which his brother was featured). And the title song is sung twice by Ishihara Yujiro.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray