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"I Will Buy You" (1956) is in an Eclipse series from Criterion. Its
Japanese title is "Anata kaimasu". The director is Masata Kobayashi.
This is a story of corruption in the scouting and recruitment of a
college graduate who is a baseball star. The following year Kobayashi
did another story of corruption, "Black River" (or Kuroi kawa"), and
that one is a real noir too that focuses on U.S. military bases and
associated vice and lawlessness.
"I Will Buy You" can be placed beside movies like "Sweet Smell of Success", "A Face in the Crowd" and "Slander", all of which are noirs set in a world of business and success accompanied by sordid or degraded moral values. There are some other movies in a somewhat similar vein that are not as dark, such as "Patterns", "The Power and the Prize", "Lonelyhearts" and "The Fountainhead".
The cinematography and staging of "I Will Buy You" immediately place it in the noir category. It's a paradox of classic film noir that great beauty in how a film looks and how a story is told accompany stories that delve into such matters as murder, robbery, police methods, corruption, greed, madness, and psychopathologies. Director Kobayashi working with cinematographer Yuharu Atsuta, who did many films with Yasujiro Ozu, really have given us a beautiful noir film to look at.
Minoro Oki is a young man who is a terrific baseball player. Several teams are anxious to recruit him. The story focuses mainly on Keiji Sada who plays a young scout from one team. In the earlier and middle part of the film, we quite often are privy to his interior thoughts in voice-over as he sizes up people and situations he faces. While a relative newcomer and somewhat naive, he's also quite shrewd and calculating. He's focused on success and money as are almost everyone he encounters, yet the way that he's portrayed makes him a relatively sympathetic character who is immersed in a situation where one doesn't know whom to trust.
Oki's trainer for the past 4 years, Yunosuke Ito, is a very important intermediary. He's in a position to extract bribes or payoffs to influence Oki and to allow access to him and his family. Oki's girl friend, Keiko Kishi, has a very different agenda and values than the scouts, Ito and Oki. Oki's family, parents and brothers, appear at first to be naive peasants; but when the bidding war starts, they are right in the thick of it. Oki himself is at first seen as interested only in the game, but as the story develops his innocence is only on the surface.
The story's main theme is the conflict between humanity and the human being as an item of commerce or a commodity. One's interest is mainly maintained by witnessing how the huge sums of money involved affect different persons. There is a good deal of suspense in seeing how people's behavior develops under this pressure and incentive. There are no outright crimes in the story. There are moral shadings and moral issues. No character is without ethical questions.
At 111 minutes, the movie runs a bit long. It becomes hard to maintain tension in a continual way without a certain amount of dullness setting in or loss in momentum. There is a fair amount of jumping back and forth among the different scouts and other principals. These are not major enough issues to undermine the movie's strong points. The movie delivers a message of widespread moral ambiguity. It's illustrated dramatically by the nature of the large prize that baseball offers, but one sees that the moral playing field of the human soul is general.
One of the most cynical sports movies ever made. Baseball is the
metaphor for imported American capitalism in post-war Japan.
Professional sports, much like "capitalist democracy" is legally
sanctioned human trafficking. The irony here is that the trafficked
"product" is one of the worst predators.
Everyone in this film assumes everyone else is lying and acts accordingly. The, almost optimistic in its way, ending affirms that sometimes someone really is suffering without manipulative affectation. Illness and death are real and seem like the most affirmational forces in the movie. Maybe, just maybe, suffering can even inspire actual love and tenderness even in the age of capitalism.
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