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Styling, 1960s Japan: Gritty Locations, Great Crime Noir Mood, Fast and Tragic
Blackmail Is My Life (1968)
Well, the bad guys (four men and one woman, all young and good looking) have a lot of fun, and carry a lot of poise. As rank amateurs they are lucky and, between racing around in their car, show a lot of cool style. It's 1968 in Japan, and it feels like maybe 1964 in the U.S., with people still wearing suits and looking good doing it.
Eventually, they get in over their heads, but we don't really worry at first. They often say vague things like, "We'll go ahead with out plan," but they never say what they are planning. And then the plan happens, and it's fast and jazzy, in a kind of extended television way. The plot is kind of interesting, digging into the underworld of Japan in this sideways fashion. And visually it's fun, very nice wide screen compositions in a wide range of gritty Japanese locations. There is even a dramatic, spare electric guitar score, perfect for the period.
The more serious and deadly this movie gets, the more it loses it's lighthearted flaws. There is clearly (to me) an influence from Bonnie and Clyde (the previous year) with romanticizing bad guys and extended violence. There is some real poignancy built in, as well. There are lots of night scenes and dramatic lighting, and this has a late film noir kind of quality, somehow, dark and brooding between action scenes. If you don't mind some Japanese camp aspects, this might really make your night. And just a heads up: the second half is easier to like in a conventional way, even if the first half is more original and excessive.
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