“Going straight” is difficult for someone with a temper and ongoing provocations

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Sabita naifu” (The Rusty Knife, 1958, directed by Masuda Toshio) is a noir film from the Nikkatsu studio with the then-big star singer and actor Ishihara Yûjirô (Crazed Fruit, I am Waiting, I Hate But Love), who sings the title song both at the beginning and at the end of the film. Ishihara played Tachibana, who served five years in prison for killing the rapist (he though singular, but learns there were others during the course of the movie) of his girlfriend. He has gone straight, running a marginally successful bar. He employs Makoto (Kobayashi Akira), who was in the Mishima gang with him. Makoto is having an affair with Shingo Mano (Shimizu Masao) whom Tachibana deplores as a “slut,” and who is happy to spend the hush money Makoto takes (even as Shimabara refuses it).

Both were witnesses to a murder of a politician that made to look like a suicide by hanging. They were with Shimabara (Shishido Jô before his already large cheeks were surgically increased in size) who threatened to go to the police if a new payment of hush money was not made to him. Early in the movie Shimabara is killed by Mishima gang members posing as policemen.

The local (Ukada, an industrial city on the western coast of Honshu) gang lord, Katsumata (Sugiura Naoki) impresses on Makoto and Shimabara the need for them to maintain their silence, as Katsumata’s determined but constantly frustrated nemesis, Prosecutor Karita (Yasui Shôji) pressures them, armed with a letter naming them as witnesses written by Shimabara to be sent if he did not return to his girlfriend in Tokyo.

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Journalist Keika (Mie Kitahara, Ishihara’s frequent costar [Crazed Fruit, I Am Waiting; and, earlier, Carmen Falls in Love] Mie Kitahara] and eventual wife) overhears that her father might have been murdered and did not commit suicide. She tags along with Tachibana, who cooperates with Prosecutor Karita. The movie includes two very long fight scenes and a chase scene involving identical big trucks. The volatile Tachibana evolves from someone wanting to be left alone by both sides (legal and illegal) into someone crusading to avenge the dead girl despite having already served five years in prison for killing one of them. Ishihara turned in a nuanced performance, at first suppressing his anger and bitterness and eventually taking on finding the mastermind pulling Katsumata’s strings..

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There is some awful back projection for a motorcycle ride of Makota and Shingo by daylight, but a satisfying noir look for most of the rest of the movie, including the scenes with the politician who tells Katsumata what to do, including killing Keika’s father.

“Rusty Knife” is part of a Criterion Nikkatsu Noir set that also includes “I Am Waiting.”

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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