A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Flame at the Pier (Masahiro Shinoda, 1962)

Koji Nanbara and Takashi Fujiki in A Flame at the Pier
Saburo Minakami: Takashi Fujiki
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.

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