Liberal political drama regarding a young murderer, based on a real life case
This is a film about a young man called Michio Yamada, who, after leaving high school, becomes involved in the shudan shushoku, a post-war Japanese government work program which involves taking whole swathes of Japanese youth from the countryside to the city. In this case almost an entire high school graduating class is taken to Tokyo to work for a fruit company. Michio is put to work preparing displays in the shop. We see immediately that he's entered an unenviable situation, he and his two chums go for a break in the fruit store restaurant and are immediately reprimanded by the manager. Michio must know his place is the message from the company. He meets a school friend in a garage who is not allowed to take a break to have tea with him. This generation of uprooted young men and women must work hard, and steal what little moments of solace they can He initially accepts this situation but frustration and rage build up, and he steals a gun from the handbag of an American lady (not what he was looking for but he had it anyway). He becomes a drop-out from the whole work program thing. One evening, whilst prowling round the back of a public swimming pool, presumably trying to get in for free, or get a glimpse at the high life, he is accosted by what is either a security guard or a policeman, whom he scuffles with and then shoots seemingly out of pure frustration.
At this point the movie rather clumsily segues into the past, starting in a remote fin-de-siecle fishing village where the story of Michio's mother and later itinerant father begins. The mother has far too many children to look after, and the father is a gambler and drifter who couldn't give a damn for his responsibilities. Some rather terrible things happen to the family in this period and the father returns from war seemingly scarred and even more degenerate. The authorities are of absolutely no help whatsoever, a member of the family is raped several times (Michio as a young boy sees this with his own eyes), and the family is slowly starving.
There is only one brief period of solace in Michio's life as he wins a prestigious marathon at high school; the theme of running from life will predominate in the film. After killing the guard he roams around doing a series of grimy underpaid jobs, flirts with the underworld, tries to reconnect with his family, and kills several more people, mostly in frustration: he kills another policeman who is trying to arrest him, a couple of taxi drivers to get their days take, and severely injures a gangster who has offended him.
The film ends with an examination of how the Michio (Norio Nagayama in the real life incidents) came to have perpetrated so many killings. Acquaintances of his under interview give pretty fatuous responses, none more so than the young lady from his high school class who was sent off to university, "He didn't have enough will".
What we're left with is a portrait of an uncaring parochial society. Michio is merely an unremarkable man who has been ground down by it. It's a strange movie, there is not much by way of mise-en-scene, it's really rather under-directed with hardly any care taken over image. The editing seems rather inadequate, and the messages somewhat mixed. For example in the first scene of the movie we see Michio kick a dog hard, which is unpleasant, is their evil within him or evil in the society? I felt quite frustrated watching the movie, perhaps it was the frustration of those times rubbing off on me.
A couple of days after, and I realise the movie has slow-burn qualities, there's an elegiac quality that lasts long after quibbles over particular scenes.
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