Tag Archives: Gosha

Oil Hell Murder

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“Oil Hell Murder” (1992) has to be one of the least inviting of movie titles. The Japanese title of what provided to be the last movie directed by Gosha Hideo, “Onna goroshi abura no jigoku,” which means “Woman murdered at oil hell” is at least more informative, specifying the sex of the person murdered in a lot of spilled oil at an oil store in 18th-century Osaka.

The movie opens with police examining and charting the knife wounds (plus two severed fingers) on the corpse. It then shows the recent past of Kichi (Higuchi Kanako), the wife of an oil merchant who was also the daughter of one. I think she was the cousin of the spoiled young womanizer, Gohei (Tsutsumi Shin’ichi). At one point he calls her “auntie.” Whatever the exact family relationship, Kichi took care of Gohei as an infant and continues to lecture him on how he should settle down and learn the business rather than collecting the hearts of geishas. (Higuchi Kanako is six years older than Higuchi Kanako.)

Gohei is carrying on an affair with Kogiku (Fujitana Miwako), the only child of the Ogura-Ya oil magnate (on whose good will Kichi’s husband’s shop depends) Kichi is determined to end the affair for a number of reasons and chides Kogiku as well as Gohei. Both women call him a womanizer, though the movie does not show him being at all promiscuous.

First he is in love with Kogiku, defying the brutal opposition of both families. Then Kichi seduces him and he is besotted with her, demanding that she run away with him with or without her two young children. After being married to a socially good match, Kogiku is sleeping around. Kichi is less a cocktease than a heart-tease, wanting a sexual relationship with her younger relative (Yohei) but not to leave the husband who has never provided her sexual pleasure, but who has sired two children on her.

The movie is based on a kabuki melodrama (of the same name) by Chikamatsu. Goha was an action-film director, even in the bizarre campy “Death Shadows” (1989), the most recent other Goha movies that Criteiron/Hulu has imported. Gohei’s knife is frequently brandished and even more frequently shown sheated, and there are some beatings and a prolonged, slip-sliding in the oil murder, but no swordfighting. Not just in being based on a Chikamatsu kabuki play but in the artful composition of shots (the cinematographer was Ichida Isamu, who had shot earlier films, including “Tracked,” for Gosha) , the movie seems more like a Shinoda film than a Goha one. The focus on a woman’s sexual obsession could as well have been Shinoda’s or Ôshima’s. The slow pace does not differentiate the late work of any of these three new wave directors.

Either of the other two would probably have provided more female nudity than Goha did. “Oil Hell Murder” displays all of the body of Tsutsumi Shin’ichi except for what little is covered by a fundoshi (and Kogiku slices off a “strap” of it). All three leads were physically attractive (and received multiple closeups), though none of them is very sympathetic a character. In that she should be the mature one, Kichi’s seems more reprehensible to me than the other two’s, though she pays the ultimate price for her manipulations.

Reviews of the other Goha-directed movies available from Criterion/Hulu and stars (1-10scale):

Three Outlaw Samurai (1964) 8

Sword of the Beast (1965) 8

Goyokin (1969) 8.4

Hunter in the Dark (1979) 5.5

Tracked (1985) 5.4

Death Shadows (1986) 3

Oil Hell Murder (1992) 6

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

Gosha’s peculiar “Death Shadows”

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Gosha Hideo’s Jittemai (Death Shadows, 1986) is a very convoluted, garishly colored movie about gangsters working with the family of the shogun (the Hamada clan) late in the Tokugawa Shogunate and attempts to thwart the corrupt conspiracy by a policeman who licenses criminals condemned to be beheaded to kill bad guys. He severs their vocal chords, though this does not keep the main “shadow” from expounding (via voiceover) at length with a minimum of hand gestures.

Yasuke the Viper (Kawatani Takuzo) had settled down with a reformed prostitute and turned into a doting father when he is recalled to take down Denzo the Fang (Chii Takeo), a gang leader for whom he used to work. Denzo escapes the first ambush… and Yasuke is spared being killed in the second one by one of Denzo’s mistresses, Ocho (Ishihara Mariko), his estranged daughter. In that she has dedicated her life to finding and killing the father who abandoned her mother and her, this makes no sense, but many of the actions and relationships in the movie similarly defy sense.

Competing female swordsmen occur in many (mostly bad!) Hong Kongo (Shaw brothers) movies, but in no other Japanese movie I’ve seen. Ocho’s rival, Oren who had been Denzo’s main squeeze and runs an illegal tattoo parlor. Natsuki Mari, who lays Oren, has a resemblance to Faye Dunaway are her most cartoonish (Mommie Dearest?).

After Ocho has been recruited to finish the job her father started (he was killed trying to protect her and dies in her arms begging for forgiveness) her other main opponent in Genshiro. I’m not sure when (never mind why!) she falls in love with him, but she saves him and then he saves her.

There are many sword fights. Ocho generally relies more on a long multi-colored she swirls about than on her short sword. And there are also four or five dance sequences showing more ribbon swirling to a disco beat with dry ice providing fog. I’d say these are padding, except so is the injection of more and more characters as others are killed off during the nearly two hour running time.

After all the betrayals, only one character is left standing at the end, though the Shogunate dodders on with none of the conflicts becoming public.

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If it went more completely for campiness, the movie might be more entertaining (like Shinoda’s pop “Killers on Parade”), though the campiest character, the corrupt policeman Boss Hell (pictured above) is really not all that amusing. It is easy to see why Nakadai Tatsuya, who had been appearing regularly in Gosha movies (hamming it up in “Onimasa”), gave this one a pass, and I’d say so should viewers, though Criterion has seen fit to import it rather than some of the Ichikawa, Kinoshita, and Shinoda films I’d dearly love to be able to see.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

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

 

Gosha’s 1991 “Kagerô”/“Heat Wave”

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“Kagerô” (Heat Wave, directed by Gosha Hideo [Sword of the Beast, Goyokin], 1991) seemed more like a Chinese (Li Gong) movie than a Japanese one, despite the extensive yakusa tattoos, the décor, the clothes, and the high-stakes games of hanafuda (flower cards, of which there are six). Rin (Higuchi Kaneko) does not show excitement while gambling (in contrast to the thrill-seeking Saeko [Kaga Mariko] in “Pale Flower”) and her face does not show any emotion any time (she does cry). She saw her father be fatally knifed for cheating, and rescues her brother (by her adoption by his parents who owned a restaurant), Ichitaro (Motoki Masahiro, later the protagonist of “Departures”) who has lost the restaurant and owes 300 yen to some yakusa.

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The middle of the movie is a long match with “Tsune[jiro] the Immoveable” (Nakadai Tatsuya, who can remain coiled a long time, as he memorably showed in “Harakiri”). Rin (with the backing of a boss on Kyushu to secure coal rights) is trying to win enough money to win back the restaurant that the vicious ganglord Otaki (Hakuryû) got from Ichitaro and is run by one of his mistresses

Eventually, all hell breaks loose and the two fight together in a protracted battle in the palatial restaurant. The movie is graphically violent enough to be Korean. Higuchi Kaneko is very good at being still and looking beautiful, but doesn’t have enough charisma to carry the movie with its cartoonish villains and besotted young lovers.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

 

Gosha’s 1979 “Hunter in the Dark”

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As in “Goyokin” (1969), “The Wolves” (1971), “Ominasa” (1982), “Kumokiri “ (1978), and “Heat Wave” (1991), Gosha Hideo cast Nakadai Tatsuya in “Hunter in the Dark” (Yami no karyudo, 1979), a Tokugawa-era yakusa film of considerable complexity and slow pace, following a brisk opening ambush scene. Nakadai’s character, the worn-down, eager-to-retire gang leader Gomyo hires skilled swordsman, one-eyed amnesiac Tanigawa Yataro (Harado Yoshio [Rônin-gai]) as his bodyguard and eventually has to avenge his death.

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The last half hour or so involves a lot of action and kills off almost all the characters, male and female (the exception is the loyal Oriwa (Ishida Ayumi). Nakadai and Sonny Chiba conclude the carnage with a swordfight in a chicken coop, with chicken feathers taking the place of plum blossoms from the end of “Samurai Saga.” I think that in 137 minutes there should have been more character development! The movie is markedly inferior to Gosha’s first two films (, which were not lacking in narrative complexity.

Satô Masrua’s score won the Japanese academy award, though it did not positively impress me.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Goyokin (Official Gold, 1969)

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Gosha Hideo’s 1969 “Goyôkin” (released with its Japanese title in Engish, and also titled “Official Gold” (a translation of the Japanese title) and “Steel Edge of Revenge,” is sort of the opposite of rebel samurai movies, though it shares the frequent villain of those movies, a corrupt official, Rokugo (Tanba Tetsurô). It is more akin to the movies in which a samurai or samurais aids and protects common folk (Seven Samurai, Sanjuro). The hero is Magobei, played by Nakadai Tatsuya. He is employed by the Sabai clan.

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The nearby island of Sado mines gold, which belongs to the Tokugawa clan (the shoguns’ clan). After a ship loaded with gold sinks and the local (to Kurosaki on the Shimokita Peninsula) peasants salvage some of it to return to the Tokugawas, Rokugo seizes it for himself and slaughters the peasants who knew of the horde. Magobei contents himself with his superior (master), who is also his brother-in-law, promising to go and sin no more, that is, never to do it again.

Magobei moves to Edo (the future Tokyo). When assassins come for him, he realizes that Magobei is going to steal more official gold and goes to intervene. With the aid of a young samurai who was supposed to kill him, Fujimaki Samon (Nakamura Kinnosuke) and a local brother and sister (Asaoka Rurikô and Hura Ben), Magobei averts the shipwreck. Not without serious injury, Magobei proceeds to the inevitable one-on-one fight with Rokugo. It is gorgeously shot in the snow.

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As usual, Nakadai is intense—and, as often, sullen and ferocious (with a thick beard). Here he portrays an entirely honorable samurai opposing a greedy villain, having let his childhood friend/ superior officer/brother-in-law off once. The purloined gold recalls “Sword of the Beast” set a few decades later (“Goyokin” is set in the 1830s).

The source material (film) has not been remastered, and the colors tend to be a bit oversaturated, but the images are mostly not muddied by age. Okazaki Kôzô’s (Kaseki) outstanding cinematography mostly endures.

(Trivia: Mifune Toshirô was originally cast as Samon, but after shooting had begun had an ulcer and dropped out of the production. Nakadai was reunited with his onscreen wife from Kobayashi’s “Samurai Rebellion” Tsukasa Yôko.)

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Sword of the Beast/Samurai Gold Seekers

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Kedamono no ken” (“Sword of the Beast,” also released as “Samurai Gold Seekers”) dates from 1965, and was directed by Gosha Hideo. It was his second movie after “Three Outlaw Samurai” (and before the “Samurai Wolf” movies and “Goyokin”). In some ways “Sword of the Beast” is less impressive than the other three films in Criterion’s “rebel samurai” box set (Kill!, Samurai Rebellion, Samurai Spy), but it has very striking visual compositions, an interesting ronin protagonist, excellent action sequences, and more complex women’s roles than any other samurai movie I have seen. Like many westerns from the 1960s and 70s (most notably, Sam Peckinpah‘s), the “rebel samurai” movies from the 1960s are set near the end of an era, for Japan the Tokugawa shogunate. The old (samurai/”Wild West”) order was ending, leaving the technicians of violence perplexed about becoming anachronisms, as their way of life is ending. “Sword of the Beast” is set in 1857, eleven years before the abolition of the Tokugawa shogunate.

At the start, Gennosuke (Hira Mikijiro, who had played smaller parts in the “Samurai Trilogy” and the observer who finally takes a side in Gosha’s “Three Outlaw Samurai” the year before) is on the run, having assassinated a counselor of his clan. In later flashbacks the viewer sees that his quest for reform was used by the man who would succeed to the office and who had encouraged the three assassins through implications that he could later deny having intended (a la Henry II re: Thomas à Becket)

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Gennosuke is a master swordsman, who hacks his way out of at least three ambushes over the course of the movie. Also three times, he is on the verge of a duel with a samurai of intact honor and the two are distracted by crises and fight together instead of fighting each other. As in most samurai movies, many opponents die. The bandits are clearly bad guys, and, though hunted as a beast, Gennosuke turns out to have considerable honor, leavened by pragmatism (or bitter experience) that the samurai on official (ostensibly honorable) missions lack. Jurata Yamane (Kato Go, who was also in “Samurai Rebellion”) and his wife Taka (Iwashita Shima) are betrayed by the clan leader they have served for many years with great zeal and self-sacrifice, and Daizaburo (Suga Kantaro) realizes that he and his fiancée, Misa (Kimura Toshie), whose father Gennosuke assassinated, cannot go home again (to the clan).

Although nothing in comparison to the dark humor of “Yojimbo,” Sanjuro, and “Kill!,” there is some comedy amidst the chases, battles, and agonies about what honor requires.

The characters are rawer (less stylized) than in earlier samurai pictures (e.g., Mizoguchi’s “47 Ronin”). The decaying feudal system was crushing samurai honor (and samurai survival), as was also shown in “Kill!,” “Samurai Rebellion,” “Hara-kiri,” Sword of Doom, Samurai Assassin, and “Samurai Spy” (all made during the 1960s). Moreover, in Japan of the 1960s, as in the US, antiheroes were found, imagined, or inserted into earlier epochs by writers and film-makers, who showed the manipulation of unscrupulous leaders of those trying to live up to codes of honor and fealty. The latter are treated as expendable by leaders.

The plot is not simple—except in comparison to “Samurai Spy” and “Sword of Doom.” In addition to the flashbacks, it is complicated by the existence of four groups on the mountain (reserved for the shogun) that has gold.

The mountain locations (with a rushing stream in which much of the action takes place) also parallel the westerns of Peckinpah, Anthony Mann, Sergio Leone, Richard Brooks, and others. (OK, the westerns mostly were set in drier locales, except for Mann’s.)

The music of Tsushima Toshiaki (who scored other Gosha samurai movies) is spare and reminiscent of that of Takemitsu. The sound transfer is excellent (albeit monaural). Tsuchiya Toshitada supplied the superb black-and-white cinematography that has also been transferred with the usual Criterion digitizing care and skill. (IMDB lists no other credits to him.) The subtitles make sense and are easy to read. There are no extras. Well, there is supposed to be an essay by Patrick Macia, but since I rented the movie, I haven’t seen it.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray