|Koji Nanbara and Takashi Fujiki in A Flame at the Pier|
Yuki: Mariko Kaga
Tetsuro Kitani: Koji Nanbara
Kaga: Tamotsu Hayakawa
Reiko Matsudaira: Kyoko Kishida
Tommy: Shinji Tanaka
Kohei Matsudaira: So Yamamura
Director: Masahiro Shinoda
Screenplay: Ichiro Mizunuma, Masahiro Shinoda, Shuji Terayama
Cinematography: Masao Kosugi
Film editing: Yoshi Sugihara
Music: Toru Takemitsu
Imagine that instead of Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley had been cast as Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954) and that Budd Schulberg's screenplay had been rewritten to give him a couple of songs to sing. Then you'd have a pretty good sense of what Masahiro Shinoda's A Flame at the Pier* is like. That's not meant to belittle Takashi Fujiki's performance in the film, which is closer to Brando (or really James Dean) than to Presley. Clearly, Fujiki's singing ability -- he had a side career as a pop singer -- inspired the filmmakers to arrange for these fairly well-integrated musical moments. The standout is a command performance put on by Fujiki's character, Sabu, who has been roped into doing an a capella rock number at a party for some rich people, friends of the owner of the shipping company for which Sabu works. The song is about a tour of hell, which is pretty much where Sabu finds himself. He works as an enforcer on the Yokohama docks, where the workers are trying to unionize. His loyalties are to his boss, Kitani, who is the company man in charge of keeping the dockworkers from organizing. Sabu believes that when he was a toddler during the war, Kitani rescued him from a fire and was crippled during the rescue. When he's not pushing the dockworkers around, trying to get them to go back to work after a sitdown strike, Sabu is wooing a pretty waitress, Yuki. But after his performance at the party, he's seduced by Reiko, who is married to the owner of the shipping company and is also having an affair with Kitani. Eventually, all of these plot threads tangle when Sabu is asked to rough up one of the men trying to organize the union but accidentally kills him. The murdered man turns out to be Yuki's father. Sabu also learns from Reiko the truth about what crippled Kitani. A Flame at the Pier rises above this overplotted narrative because of the performances, especially by Fujiki and Mariko Kaga as the young lovers, as well as Masao Kosugi's eloquent black-and-white cinematography, and a score by Toru Takemitsu.
*The retitling and/or translation of Japanese film titles for English-speaking countries is always mysterious. A Flame at the Pier has also been titled Tears on the Lion's Mane, which seems to be, if Google Translate is to be trusted, a little closer to the Japanese title, Namida o shishi no tategami ni. There are certainly a pier, a lion, and considerable tears in the film, but the attempt at poetry in both titles rings false as a label for what is essentially a gritty dockside melodrama.