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Based on a novel written by Tamura Taijiro, and is actually a remake of 1950 Toho film Escape at Dawn directed by Taniguchi Senkichi with stars Ikebe Ryo and Shirley Yamaguchi, director Suzuki Seijun transformed a Nikkatsu ready-made routine script with low budget and tight schedule into one of his finest arts. Without digressing from the script or the novel, he recreated his signature world that is abstractive and ideological. Even though this is a B-movie, or maybe because it is, Suzuki with the production designer Kimura Takeo displays fantastic backdrops using some painstaking techniques of visual effects, superb studio sets and location filming behind outstanding performances acted by Kawaji Tamio, Nogawa Yumiko and Tamagawa Isawo. Compare to the Escape that has altered some elements from the Tamura's original this Suzuki version is essentially true to it, therefore Suzuki version has quite important elements such as the prostitution in the Army, multiple stratum of knotty personae and complicated layers of grotesque psychological characterizations concomitant to their bizarre relationships all of that are omitted in the Taniguchi's "fine literary effort." Along with his sense of unique humor these deep feelings the film radiates might be inspired from his own war experiences as a soldier during the WW II and it could be said that, in this regard, some similarity might be in Samuel Fuller's, many of these films are also deeply affected by Fuller's own war experiences.
It's more of a story of a conflict between urbane versus rednecks than a cliché of the East meets West story. A successful Japanese sarariman (salary-man) who lost his best friend from karo-shi (death from over-working) settled in a ranch in Montana to fulfill his growing up dream of becoming a cowboy. Undertaking several conflicts against local people he gathers a band of five including old cowboy (Robert Conrad), a female veterinarian (Catharine Mary Stewart), a Native American nerd (Byron Chief-Moon) and a Country Western singing African American barnstormer (Bradley M. Rapier) to transport a herd of the cattle to pay off the mortgage. What is so different here from regular East meets West stereotype is that the Japanese cowboy is portrayed as a rich smart-ass backed by the image of powerful economy of Japan rather than another poor and stupid Oriental martial-artists like Jacky Chan. And it is remarkably enough that this film is of as early as 1992's even in the 21st Century many movies still trapped with the old fashioned image of the mysterious Orient such as the costume of Princess Amidara in Star Wars trilogy or the shallow spiritual image that self-conscious Steven Segal always try to emit, to name a few. In terms of a low budget flick it still is pretty close to be paired with classic Western films like Howard Hawks' masterpiece Red River. The director Michael Keusch tried his best to show humorous conversations, some musical sequences (don't forget that Go is one of Japanese top pop music icons!) dangerous stunts and even real cattle transportation as a herd. Overall, its very entertaining while skillfully avoiding unnecessary stereotypes.
It's like a lost in Translation meets Solaris meets L' Amant meets The Grudge. Even though the director M. X. Oberg's rendering techniques such as transforming the comics into the live actions and vice versa, use of handy-cam, etc. are somewhat different from the rest, the story itself tells nothing more than a Jonathan Kaplan's 1983 TV flick Girls of the White Orchid in which Jennifer Jason Leigh plays an innocent L.A. girl who was tricked by a yakuza into servitude as a Tokyo nightclub hostess/prostitute instead of her dream of becoming a singer. However Oberg remarks that the story is based on his encountering in the airplane with a German girl who worked for Tokyo nightclub, or a presumed relation with a murder case of a British barmaid disappeared from Roppongi nightclub in 2003, as I stated earlier, the similarity with White Orchid, which also allegedly based on a true event, is sine dubio, and this kind of exoticism/orientalism has been reiterated in all over the places from Ridley Scott's big budget Black Rain to the Master Card TV Commercials, or from Shirley MacLaine's disguise as a geisha to Emmanuelle Riva's love affair in Hiroshima; just to name a few. We live in the twenty-first century and are still have a deep chasm between the East and the West. This is what it reminds me when it shows excessive slow motions and dizzy flash backs by which they dispel the use of handy-cam with synchronous audio recording intended to represent the realism not the orientalism.
Frank Lloyd created this film and took a leave of absence from
Hollywood for almost a decade until he directed another flick set in
orient called "The Shanghai Story" in 1954. Although this film is a
production of 1945, the year the U. S. dropped A-bombs in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki to end the war, the story is about an alleged Japanese
conspiracy against the U. S. that took place in the pre-war period, say
In the movie James Cagney who plays a journalist for a Tokyo English paper always condemning against the Japanese political agenda an (evil) propaganda; however it is a movie that meant to be a part of anti-Jap propaganda itself for sure when its time and backdrops are concerned. One more political issue is laid in its casting problem. Since all Japanese-Americans at the time was either deported or in concentration camps, Japanese people portrayed in the movie was played either by Caucasian or Chinese actors in disguise. In this respect only limited Japanese was spoken and all are with terrible accent.
Apart from the political or racial issues, the movie was excellent in the artistic rendition of Japanese settings as well as the direction of actions. Even though all Japanese settings was shot in the studio in Hollywood, images are not too exotic but remarkably accurate. For example when John Emery (who plays premiere Giichi Tanaka) commits hara-kiri suicide he proceeds to a family alter/shrine that is majestically decorated. The alter used in the scene was quite likely the one confiscated from a real Japanese shrine during the war but it fits somewhat in a very possible Japanese context of the time. The decoration of newspaper office in Tokyo also looks nice with half Western modern style that consists of desks, chairs and lighting fixtures with another half in Japanese style of wooden girded partitions.
Cagney's martial arts skill is also remarkable. In combine with Lloyd's skillful direction, his fighting scene at the climax of the movie looks even better than Jackie Chan or Sonny Chiba movies which comes way after this work of no small merit.
The good twisted plot as a suspense drama, carefully crafted sets for the reasonable exoticism, excellent actions, and masterful direction make this piece a one of kind action thriller entertainment. Also worthy to mention is, perhaps, Sam Fuller's big budget House of Bamboo, that was entirely shot in location in Japan for the first time as a Hollywood film, is strongly influenced by this flick because there are many resemblances; i.e. scenes at the waterfront, by the oil tanks, public bath, etc.
At the end Cagney says; "Forgive your enemy. But first we get even." These words still blare over American foreign policy up to this day.