Though having been shot in black and white, mostly in cities, there is no way that Nomura Yoshitarô’s “Harikomi” (1958) is a “film noir.” Almost all of it occurs during the day and the protagonist, Takao Yuki (Ohki Minoru, has none of the moral ambiguity of a a noir protagonist. Indeed, especially for a policeman, he is quite innocent and pure of heart.
The last quarter of the movie fits with one of the English titles, “The Chase,” but the other English title, “Stakeout” is not only the usual translation of “harikomi,” but fits for three quarters or more of the movie, during which Tokyo, Yuji Sgt. Shimooka (Miyaguchi Seiji) and Takao Yuki (Ohki Minoru) are sweltering in Saga, watching Sadako (Takamine Hideko) who is married to a tightwad banker and raising his three children by a previous marriage. They are hoping that her former boyfriend, Ishii (Tamura Takahiro) will turn up in his hometown to see the woman he loved, so that he can be arrested when he does. He is wanted for killing and robbing a pawnbroker in Tokyo.
Things begin miserably with the policemen unable to find seats on an overnight train. Once in Saga (on Kyushu), the detectives sweat a lot and the landlady’s daughter is very skeptical of supposed salesmen who rarely leave their room (only when Sadako goes out) and pester the local police about these suspicious characters.
Voiceovers by Yuki reveal his changing attitudes about the household drudge (Sadako) he has been watching and (more rapidly) about her relationship with her ex. He realizes he was wrong in pretty much all his suppositions about them, but cannot do anything with his new insights except to slightly palliate the troubles Sadako might have encountered with her stingy husband.
Like many movies by Naruse, Mizoguchi, and Kinoshita, “Harikomi” shows the lack of options for women (often enough embodied by Ms. Takamine). Far from saving her from a brutal lover, the younger detective realizes that she is having a brief idyll with the man who loved her and whom she loved. If not tubercular, he has a lung ailment, which is also a leitmotif of Japanese movies of the 1940s and 50s.
In addition to rejecting identification of the movie as a noir, I find resemblances to and claimed influence by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic “Rear Window” implausible. There are two able-bodied men watching a singular lack of suspicious activity across a street (not a courtyard). Not only do they not witness a murder, they do not see the murderer there. And they don’t even have a Brownie camera, let alone the professional photographer’s equipment James Stewart has while laid up with a broken leg in “Rear Window.”
And the unmarked flashbacks (to the case and the primary relationships of the two policemen) make it much more difficult to follow than the temporal through line of Hitchcock’s classic. Not to mention that the pace is rather leisurely, enrolling the audience with some of the boredom of the stakeout.
©2016, Stephen O. Murray