Σάββατο, 7 Νοεμβρίου 2009

THE AGE OF ASSASSINS (1967, KIHACHI OKAMOTO)






This is a comedy first and foremost in the farcical European sense of the term. Tatsuya Nakadai's character is a naive meek teacher with a skin rash in his feet and a Renault Deuxceveau that farts smoke like Mr. Hulot's car in Jacques Tati's movie and for some inexplicable reason he becomes the target of an organisation called the "Japanese Population Control Agency" which sends wave after wave of quirky assassins his way. This group is led by the halfmad director of an insane asylum who is a fanatic of war and murder, an ex-Nazi who switches between Japanese and German for most of the movie and wears black gloved hands and a grotesque smile. In some ways all this recalls Peter Sellers' character from DR. STRANGELOVE and the movie has some of that crackerjack/gonzo ambience.

It's all a bit inconsequential plotwise and the movie never develops the grim gravitas of Okamoto's better works because it must sprawl across a dozen different locations, from Tokyo's subways to a holiday resort in Mt. Fuji, and it must pause for Nakadai and his henchman to be shelled by the army before it can move on to its destination. A Spanish knife standoff between Nakadai (who in the process of the movie is turned from naive happy-go-lucky teacher to suave and sly, a Japanese version of Alain Delon which is oddly fitting for the kind of movie Age of Assassins is trying to be) and mad ex-Nazi scientist in a hall made up of brilliant art nouveau decorations and a dazzling whiteness that looks like something out of a Hiroshi Teshigahara movie. This is less of a Japanese New Wave film than Okamoto's subsequent THE HUMAN BULLET which marginally touched the outskirts of the niche occupied in the late 60's by the likes of Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima. It does share, however, a similarity in the avantgarde sets, stylish setpieces, and general ironic absurdity, with Seijun Suzuki's idiosynchratic early 60's films leading up to BRANDED TO KILL, yet from the Pink Pantherish animated opening credits to the broad, sometimes goofy, humor, it is also closer to the Eurospy extravanzas and James Bond ripoffs of the 60's than the typical Japanese noir made in the early 60's in studios like Nikkatsu and Shintoho. In the same time it's a sendup of all that with typical for Okamoto jabs at militarism and war.

Everyone is looking for a gem called the Tear of Cleopatra but it's a Hitchcockian McGuffin, an opportunity for Okamoto to take us on a tour through a series of elaborate images whether they be footage of Hitler rearprojected through a car window or the severed head of a doll used by a hypnotist as an illuminated pendulum. It doesn't amount to much in the end but it's visually inventive and fun to watch.
7/10

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