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Suzuki would go on to do wonders with abstraction and suggestive atmosphere in his later films but this is mostly a compact potboiler that doesn't have any time to spare. In fact there's so much plot here we need to get inside the protagonist's head to hear him try and clear some of it out. Voice-over narration tells us that "Fuychita had a sister, she's my next lead" and we're immediately transported to a tavern where that sister may be spotted. The movie jumps like that from place to place and character to character, gathering very little as it does but a growing number of names and intertwining relationships which are only as meaningful as the next person or clue they lead us to, and then at some point a sharpshooter is shooting at the protagonist and an underground prostitution ring is revealed. This is the kind of movie where people are presumed dead only to reappear later, where the protagonist goes back to his place to find a key character waiting for him in his living room with no explanations given or asked, and where the bad guys stage an elaborate death for the protagonist and his girl to escape when two bullets would have sufficed. It's not film noir by the American standard of the term and it's not even film noir compared to some of the stuff Teruo Ishii was doing at the time in Shintoho studios. It's a comic-book murder mystery with onedimensional characters and convoluted plot (one to make up for the other), a couple of cool scenes, and a swinging jazzy score. Like a dimestore viper novel, it keeps you turning the page but you know you're reading something mostly cheap and disposable by the end of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While the plot of this film is pretty confusing at times and the film
is no technical masterpiece, "Take Aim At The Police Van" certainly is
entertaining and it was nice to see what Japanese film noir looked
The movie begins aboard a bus filled with prisoners headed to prison. At the same time, you see an assassin readying his rifle and scope...and you assume are going to kill the guards and free at least one of the prisoners. However, in a twist, the man simply kills two of the prisoners--and you assume somebody wanted at least one of these guys dead to stop them from talking.
Oddly, the man in charge of this transport was made a scapegoat and given a 6 month suspension from his prison job. Tomon is not angry about this but vows to spend this time off locating the person or persons responsible. His path always seems to lead to a lady named Yume and again and again, she just seemed to be nearby. How she relates to all this and the identity of 'Mr. Big' is something you'll need to see for yourself.
As far as the noir elements go, in some ways this is a lot grittier than traditional noir. A lot of the plot involves prostitution and you see a woman's breasts (something you'd never see in a Hollywood noir film--but nudity like this was a lot more acceptable in Japanese society then and now). However, the film also pulled its punches and didn't become nearly as dark in regard to its central character, Tomon, who was a nice guy! He believed in the goodness within everyone--a concept as alien to noir as you can get! And, at times, Tomon was way, way too lucky and was able to beat huge numbers of hired thugs--again, not exactly a realistic or noir pattern. But, the film did have some nice gritty moments and some cool moments (such as the arm in the piano and the gasoline scenes)--and it never failed to entertain even if the plot seemed a bit too confusing and complicated. Worth seeing--even if technically the film was no masterpiece--such as the badly filmed scene on the train (the angle outside the window was ridiculously off) as well as the scene where Tomon was dragged a 100 or more yards by a car and didn't even have a scratch!!
Seijun Suzuki, one of the crazier '60s Japanese directors, liked to
provoke Nikkatsu executives' nerves here and there with his strange
filming style, but even though Take Aim at the Police Van (the literal
translation is even longer), based on Kazuo Shimada's story, is the
strangest outing in the box-set, it's still fairly normal for a Suzuki
film. His approach to traditional film noir is something else, really.
Right off the bat, you are asked to leave behind all logic and rationality - this is a Seijun Suzuki film, and logic is dumb. Logic is for pussies. Why is the protagonist suspended from his prison guard job for negligence when there really isn't a sensible way to react in the situation he was in? What exactly is the motivation of the agency owner and what's up with her sudden love interest in the prison guard? As you might expect from Suzuki, the plot is convoluted, under-valued and all over the place. It isn't as baffling as his later works, but still. Remember, this is the movie where the villains, instead of simply shooting the protagonists, tie them up in a gasoline truck and push it downhill, then leave the gasoline tap on the back open, so they can set the trail ablaze so that the fire catches up to the truck! It's a pity Suzuki never got to direct a James Bond movie.
Michitaro Mizushima (from Suzuki's Underworld Beauty) is a pretty boring main character, with an almost indifferent reaction to pretty much anything that comes his way. But one odd thing about him is that he acts to track the killers not out of revenge, but out instead to reform them. Or so I guess, because the movie doesn't really explain it well. The villain's death is almost the same as in Rusty Knife, but this one is better because of how outrageous it is. Another oddity about the film is a short nude scene of a woman who gets her boob pierced by an arrow. It's probably unusual to see nudity in a film this old, and it isn't even a pinku, or an independent or art-house production.
The widescreen photography is as slick as you'd expect, with a fetish for road warning signs, rifle-scope framing, immaculate chiaroscuro composition, and other noir staples. The soundtrack is far better than in the previous two films, but rather intrusive. Overall, this was a fun little studio film that leaves some space for Suzuki to play around with the noir style.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Viewed on DVD. Cinematography =ten (10) stars; restoration = ten (10) stars; sound = four (4) stars. Director Seijun Suzuki is unable to overcome a nonsensical scrip or direct/edit scenes to maximize action and suspense. The basic ingredients are there for a potentially top-notch, exciting photo play, but the Director's plodding approach pretty much neutralizes the dynamics. This movie "cries out" for re-editing especially of the climatic scenes which are highly original, but squandered by poor direction/editing. Suzuki also seems to be fixated on showing high-speed vehicles on deserted country roads and sliding around city corners. There is a boatload of these "padding" scenes which add little (if anything) to the story (and often don't make much sense either). The script is just plain lame. For example, it fails to explain the film's title: just why is a police bus shot up (at the start of the film) or, for that matter, why do any of the subsequent murders take place? Trying to turn a dodgy, minor talent agency into a bigger prostitution ring is not much of a plot device. Leading actress Mari Shiraki is allowed to overact in the closing scenes which humorously diminishes rather than enhances the impact of her performance. The jazzy film score is fine, but sound dubbing leaves much to be desired. All vehicles sound the same especially the squealing of tires whenever a car goes around a corner (chronically under-inflated tires?); all gun shots from a variety of weapons sound the same; and sporadic background noise (perhaps from an air conditioner?) in some interior shots only serves to highlight (instead of hiding) the mechanics of how scenes are spliced together (sound comes and goes for even single-sentence line readings!). Cinematography (wide screen, black and white) is excellent with deep focus lighting and some of the best shots from inside moving vehicles on film to that date (practically no phony rear-screen projection is employed--what the viewer sees is really happening!) Using filters to render day for night, however, is a bit of a distraction, since it is obviously phony (other night scenes appear to have been filmed in the dark and look great). Recommended for film-school students studying how not to make a movie. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
Twisty detective flick from the director of Branded to Kill. After the police van of which he was in charge is ambushed by a sniper, prison guard Michitaro Mizushima (the star of the earlier Suzuki film Underworld Beauty) is suspended from his job. Upset over his failure to protect those under his charge, Mizushima conducts his own investigation. This is an extremely convoluted mystery - a fact to which the film cops. Suzuki's master direction keeps it moving. The opening and closing sequences in particular are brilliant. I just wish I knew what the Hell was going on! I was very tired while watching it, I should say.
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