Pitfall (1962) Poster

(1962)

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Interesting satire
xhari_nairx23 June 2001
This film is very difficult to find in the West. It's not on video and you'd probably have to be lucky and find it at a film festival or a revival house. It's the first collaboration between director Teshigahara, writer Kodo Abe, and composer Toru Takemitsu, who went on to make the more widely available WOMAN IN THE DUNES and FACE OF ANOTHER. It's not quite as strong as WitD but is on par with FoA. This is a satire about a deserted town who's inhabitants are ghosts swallowed up by corruption. Teshigahara's direction is solid and Takemitsu comes up with another appropriately dissonant score balancing tension and humor. It's worth seeing for anyone interested in the three principal collaborators, particularly since opportunities to see it are rare. Takemitsu in particular could almost single handedly make a movie worth watching.
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8/10
The Ghosts Walk
crossbow010623 September 2009
If you're familiar with Hiroshi Teshigahara's work, especially the notorious "Woman In The Dunes", you will understand the starkness, the harsh reality, the irony of this film. Ostensibly about a miner who is stalked by a man in a white suit and who then is killed for reasons that do not become apparent until nearly the end of the film, the film is, like "Dunes", an uncompromising look at life. The film is technically superb on the DVD box available, and it is highly recommended. This film is not for everyone, it is for people who are interested in serious Japanese cinema. There are nuances in this film that show the mark of a great director, though. Again, be prepared: This is not happy go lucky. It triumphs mostly because of its persistence of vision. That is an endorsement for any filmmaker.
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7/10
PITFALL (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1962) ***
MARIO GAUCI22 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Teshigahara called his first feature film "a documentary fantasy" and it is indeed a strange amalgam of social realism, political thriller and ghost story.

People in a mining community are being bumped off by a mysterious white-suited hit-man and the two warring unions are blaming the murders on one another. There is no reason why the victims come back from the dead as ghosts but this mining community is a veritable ghost town. The fate of the main character in the film, a common mine worker who shifts from town to town with his young boy in search of better working conditions, is sealed when he is mistaken by the hit-man (posing as an innocuous photographer) for the secretary of one of the unions and ends up face down on a beach before the eyes of his own passive son.

The other notable inhabitant of the ghost town is a female candy-store owner who is perennially waiting for news from her far-away lover. To make ends meet, she agrees to act as a witness to the murder of the mine worker but, after being raped by a sleazy police officer, she ends up on the hit-man's list as well lest she decides to sing about her involvement in the murders. Ironically, she is killed just moments before the postman indolently delivers the longed-for letter from her lover and the sequence when her failure to clutch the letter with her fingers brings about her realization that she is in fact dead is a moving highlight. The mine worker seems resigned to his fate of suffering eternal hunger (since he died on an empty stomach!) but the woman can't accept the fact that she was taken away from this world just as her life was about to take a turn for the better; her incessant questioning and screaming after the hit-man riding away on his motorcycle is not easily shaken off.

The second half of the movie deals in more detail with the machinations of the two miners' unions which are being pitted one against the other by some unknown force. Towards the end of the film, there is a lengthy, impressive sequence of a clandestine meeting between the two secretaries (one of whom suspects the other of having hired the hit-man to terminate him) which turns into a gritty fist-fight between the two and ends with their two ghosts haunting the sea-side spot were earlier on the mine worker met his doom. This time, however, the miner's son is moved to tears by what he witnesses and, bewildered and alone, runs off aimlessly in a stunning, fluid camera move which ends the film on a high note.

The occasionally elliptical narrative may be explained by the fact that we see the events unfolding before us through the eyes of the child and the film's most arresting image is that of the boy's eye peering through a crack in the wall of the wooden shack spying on the woman being raped. PITFALL's subject matter and lack of major stars may limit its appeal but, for adventurous film fans, it's a satisfyingly existentialist and Kafkaesque journey.
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9/10
The premeditated murder of solidarity
swillsqueal18 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
"Divide et impera" is an old game used by those with power against their subalterns. In "Pitfall", an employer who owns two mines has had to deal with one big union in the past. So, the employer conjures up a plan to divide his mine workers. He lays off some from one mine and doesn't layoff any at the other. The members of the one big union are supposed to come to each other's aid in solidarity when trouble with the employer erupts and this is one such occasion. However, when the miners of mine number one ask miners of mine number two for class solidarity in their strike to get lost jobs back, the miners of mine number two refuse and keep working as the employer has told them that they will not suffer layoffs. Bingo! The miners in one his mines have been pitted against the miners of his other mine, competing for what they think are a limited number of positions. The consequence is that the one big union splits into two competing unions. It's much easier for the boss to make deals with two small unions for they are weaker than one big union. Message to the employing class: divide and rule. Lesson for workers:unity.

What happens though when the employer wants to get rid of even those two unions, weakened by distrust, one for the other? The answer to this question is large part of what director Hiroshi Teshigahara's "Pitfall" is about. Teshigahara wasn't alone in creating this film. To be sure, "Pitfall" was also the work of author Kôbô Abe. In fact, "Pitfall" was originally a stage play by Abe. One must keep in mind when watching this film that both men were leftists, influenced by surrealism and it shows in the direction, screenplay, choice of music and cinematography. Both men saw how the social relations of capitalist class rule kept the producers weak, poor and in wage-slavery. Both also saw the existential theme of alienation between people which is part and parcel of the the system of wage-labor. But neither of them was about to produce a piece of nihilist fiction, which is what many reviewers of this film seem to think "Pitfall" is about. Teshigahara and Abe are depicting life under the rule of Capital and showing how it works to keep workers at each others' throats.

As the film opens, a father and his young boy wander a stark landscape in Kyushu, industrially pockmarked by mines and the scattered, wild remnants of a supremely indifferent Nature. This is an environment like our own, one which has suffered from the neglect of civilization's modern rulers. The father is a rootless proletarian in search of an employer and on the run because he has 'deserted'. The film's audience is never told what he has deserted from; but whatever it was, there are other workers who have deserted from it too. We know this because the father is being accompanied through part of the film by a fellow mine worker who is also on the run, a self-proclaimed 'deserter'. We also know because in one scene from a mine work-site a man is fallen upon by two other men, authorities who take him away after a scuffle. The miners who view this in a stunned, atomized silence agree: the man must have been a 'deserter'. The father's young son has been brought up as witness to the fact that authority can never be trusted. He has seen too many ordinary working people hurt in some way by people who wear the clothes and uniforms of officialdom. When he spies a man in a pristine white suit riding through the mining town on a motor scooter, the only motor vehicle around which isn't a truck, he hides.

The father, his son and their companion, the other mine worker, leave one job secretly in the night and go on the road to look for another. They fear discovery as 'deserters' as their employer seems like he might be catching on. No chances can be taken. Both land a job at another mine site some distance away and it looks to be a good job too. The father has always dreamed of working for a union mine and of the better, more comfortable and secure life this would mean. This one's not bad; but one of his supervisors tells him that a new boss awaits him at another mine with an even better job and so he and his son take off on foot with a simply sketched map in hand.

However, the new mine doesn't seem to exist. Instead, the father is led by the written map given to him by his former supervisor to an abandoned mining town where only one person lives, a woman who owns a candy/trinket store. The woman is as isolated and lonely as the father. She too is waiting for something, a letter from her ex-lover, a summons to a better place. In the course of their conversation, we find out that the ghost town has been abandoned because of all the mining accidents which have happened. Unsafe working conditions have their consequences. Still, the father wonders what went wrong with the directions he got from his old supervisor. He's sure that he's in the right place, the one given to him on a piece of paper by foreman of the mine he just left. The candy store owning woman suggests that he might be looking for another mine, just over the hill.

Be prepared for ghosts, doubles and dastardly planned murders most foul. Be prepared to see and even hear (in a jangling musical score) a movie which will intrigue and surprise and may cause you thereafter to continually question the motives of your rulers: divide et impera.
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8/10
Uncommonly original and compelling
fertilecelluloid30 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A miner (Isashi Igawa) and his son travel the countryside searching for work. While on his way to an interview, the miner is visited by death in the form of a man in a white suit (Kunie Tanaka). This fascinating, surreal drama, is a blend of many genres, and was Hiroshi Teshigahara's first feature film. The setting is a ghost town where the dead amble about, carrying the pain that plagued their lives. Like the director's excellent "The Face of Another", this is concerned with the nature of identity and anonymity. It is exceptionally well photographed by Hiroshi Segawa with a striking, percussive sound mix. The film was clearly an inspiration for the Danish film that inspired the recent "The Invisible", for it traverses the same territory and focuses on a man observing an investigation into his own murder. Novelist Kobo Abe, who wrote "Pitfall", and was responsible for "The Face of Another" and "The Woman in the Dunes", was a writer of uncommon originality and intelligence, and his work here is excellent. Thought-provoking and never less than totally compelling.
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Geometry of a discordant axis - an early Teshigahara masterpiece
chaos-rampant28 January 2009
Although structurally and aesthetically experimental cinema, Teshigahara's debut proper already carries all the trademarks of an assured author and although a bit rough around the edges here and there it shows a director experimenting with his craft even as he perfects it. Japanese new-wave ferried to its logical conclusion even as it takes its first baby steps.

Based on a story by Kôbô Abe, PITFALL explores the myriad possibilities that emerge from the space where life and death overlap, as a poor miner is murdered under mysterious circumstances in the marshes near an old ghost town. His murderer, an alluring white-clad figure, buys off the silence of the one witness, a woman operating a candy store in the ghost town district, and disappears as mysteriously as he appeared. In the mean time the murdered man wakes up next to his corpse only to discover he's now a ghost.

While THE SIXTH SENSE milked a very similar idea for maximum mainstream appeal, shock twists and shallow thrills, Teshigahara is wise to allow his material to breathe. Even though a very pragmatic subplot about two rival labour unions introduced in the end of act two detracts from the existential nature of the story, like all great storytellers Teshigahara never settles for the convenient and tidy, refuses to explain what the viewer most needs explained. Personal interpretation is very important in any work and particularly in something as haunting as this. Who is the killer? Why is he doing it? Questions left open, the character cleverly typed as a seriocomic grim reaper of sorts riding around in his moped, a manifestation that invokes notions of fate by the very nature of his acts. Is there not meaning when one is not aware of it?

Teshigahara pits the dead against the dead, the living against the living and everybody against each other, ghosts quizically examining their corpses and wondering the reason of their deaths, the living deaf to their protestations and too busy being suspicious of each other. A world revolving around a discordant axis, thrown off balance and left for us to explore its geometry.

Teshigahara's direction reflecting the uncertainty and disorientation of the plot as much as Toru Takemitsu's dissonant score. A POV shot of a child introduced only for the child to walk inside its own POV shot. Jarring jump cuts that send characters jumping through space. Construction works photographed in all their derelict, abandonded glory, a ghost world for the dead to haunt. Notions of hell on earth. The ghost of the murdered man complaining he's hungry as winds rise in the soundtrack. A pack of dogs ascending a steep slope like other Sissyphi. Very precise, very geometric, the work of an assured visual director.
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6/10
A flawed debut
happyreflex7 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I'll skip the synopsis and go right for the flaws. The little boy was sketched as a weak caricature. Our hero, the murdered man, was given some very weak dialog. The subplot about the divided miners' union was verbose. The confrontation between the two union heads came to an unbelievable conclusion. The man in white was not as much of a mystery as the film seems to think he is. At the end, with four principles dead, we expect them to meet at last and discuss what has happened with one another, but instead the movie watches the boy run crying down a road, and damn it, the movie isn't about the boy! -----paragraph----- The film sets up the murdered man to slowly come to realize the fact that there will be no justice for his murder and that it is better, once one has died, not to torture oneself by watching the world he has left behind. That the movie ends before he comes to this realization makes the ending very unsatisfying. Of course, the film doesn't allow him to realize as much as the viewer feels he should. Perhaps that is the greatest flaw. Or perhaps it is the fact that the two union heads fight each other to the death when at least one of them should know that it is more important for them to unite against a common enemy. Then there's the man in white. The movie seems to think he's a mystery, but it's pretty obvious that he's a representative of the mining company looking to crush the unions. The murdered man, our hero, does not realize this, nor does the movie seem to think the viewer does, but the viewer does know, and with all the murdered man has heard, by all rights he should, too. Instead, he spouts weak dialog about his murder. He recites his stilted inner monologue like a man in a stage play, and it doesn't work. Really, he's too complacent. He passively watches people talk about him. He does not put up any kind of fight to make the living world hear him. He doesn't undergo the process of accepting that he cannot interact with the living world. At the end, he's even trying to speak to a living man, even though he should have come to realize that it's impossible. And, as I said before, he hasn't made any progress toward accepting the fact that he must forget the world of the living and accept his fate. His story arc feels very unfinished. The script needed a rewrite.
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9/10
Thrilling, tragic, slightly untidy: Pitfall
Islandeye10 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Opening with two men and a boy fleeing in the darkness from some unseen threat, with an ominous silence punctured by wolves barking, it is clear that the film will be unpredictable in both style and content. Moving on from this we follow the man (a miner) and his son as he tries to find work, until eventually he is set up in a complex murder plot. Stalked by an unnerving, immaculately suited assassin he is soon slain brutally and left for dead, in a move reminiscent of Psycho and its quick dispatching of the main character.

Following this, the character we thought dead rises up from the ground to a standing position. The simple technique of playing a shot backwards recalls another early 60's Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, while there it was used as a slight character moment, here it completely reinvents the film's narrative – melting away all we've seen and reforming into something much more ambitious.

Pitfall contains elements of social realism, surrealist experimentation, crime procedural, conspiracy thriller, and fantasy-tragedy. Teshigahara's roots in documentary film-making and strong leftist political view provide reason for his sympathies with the struggles of miners, shown through the exploitation of the miner and his son and the two union's confrontation. Selfishness pervades the film, the individual selfishness of the exploitative old man hiring the men to do a mining job, the boy taking a candy from his dead father's corpse, and the political selfishness, as seen in the confrontation between the two unions.

Duplicity and division are chief devices in Pitfall. Cinematographically we see this through the sensual distance of Teshigahara's camera, at once close, tracking, exploring the personal space and frame of mind of the characters, other times distanced and merely observing, displacing the individual as they get lost in the harsh world around them. The lack of structure in the films cinematography is a benefit, sumptuous compositions, guerrilla hand-held movements, deep-focused long shots, erratic zooms and pans, the assortment of shots is astounding; the film is simply a visual treat. The welding of extreme social realism (at one point real documentary footage of impoverished miners is inserted) and the surrealist imagery of ghosts left in the town, carrying on their lowly routines with no effect, and of the many dead characters inspecting their own corpses, quizzically studying the circumstances of their deaths and often probing the living, creates a fusion of misery – both in life, and forever in death. In ghost form the miner laments his hunger – something he no doubt would've done often in life.

Despite all these many seemingly contradictory modes and random story-strands, Pitfall holds together well. As Teshigahara's first feature film, this as a major outlet for his artistic visions, and consequently the film is slightly untidy, structurally the film lacks a successful linking of the many elements at play, they seem to pop-up randomly, sometimes without reason. For example the conspiracy hints littered throughout the murder-mystery plot seem to go nowhere. Rough around the edges it may be, Pitfall is a genuinely fascinating, thrilling, involving picture from beginning to end, possessing the visual tenacity and narrative complexity of a first-time director finding his feet and unleashing his cinematic imagination.
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9/10
Near masterpiece, at least; the next time I watch it, it will probably be a masterpiece
zetes19 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Teshigahara's debut, at least as a feature length director of fictional films. Like his most famous work, his sophomore feature A Woman in the Dunes, Pitfall is based on the work of Japanese author Kobo Abe. While Pitfall is far less famous than A Woman in the Dunes, it is at least as good. It's been a while since I've seen Dunes, but at the moment I'd rate Pitfall higher. The story is about a man and his son who arrive in a mining camp to start a new job. The child notices a lanky man in white following them about. The father (Hisashi Igawa) notices nothing. Following orders, Igawa goes down to the beach. The man in white follows and attacks with a knife. The child hides, watching his father's murder from afar. The film is a murder mystery. It is also a ghost story, as Igawa rises from the dead and wanders the camp looking for answers to his murder. The child hides and avoids contact with the human beings around him. The film plays out as an existentialist nightmare, people wandering through empty landscapes, surrounded by distant hills of dirt and rocks, abandoned settlements and seemingly unmanned mining equipment. The film-making style is very cold, very distant, very geometrical in its compositions and editing. It's quiet and frightening. It's incredible sad. And it's one of the best films I've seen in a long time.
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7/10
Otoshiana
sinful-29 April 2017
From the start of the movie you follow two deserters that are mine workers. A guy dressed in white is spying on them unnoticed from a distance. Then The miners move on to new jobs but the man in white follows still unnoticed....

This movie is much more about moods I think than the actual story. It is a slow moving movie especially the first half of it. But I was absorbed about wondering who was it following him and why. I did also like the boy as the silent observer where I wondered if he would interfere with the story at a time and in what way.

I would not recommend this movie to everybody. I did enjoy it a lot but I would not consider it as a masterpiece. If you are are interested in slow but moody B&W pictures then it may be for you. If you want a bit more action then choose another movie.
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8/10
nope
treywillwest19 April 2018
Absolutely unique and bizarre movie in the best sense. It starts as an almost Kafakaesque eerie horror, then becomes a comic ghost story and then an almost Ken Loachian tale of labor struggle. Ultimately it's a cosmic black comedy. That's a lot of narrative tones for one film to cover, but this manages it all with grace and eloquence.
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9/10
Parallel Universes
Hitchcoc4 January 2017
As the ghosts of two of the victims of the man in the white suit chase his Vespa, they yell, "You can't kill someone for no reason." Whatever that reason is, it is never shared with us. It's sad enough that the characters in this movie are so lost, but that someone would care enough about them to seek them out and kill them. The man in the white suit has a book and after carrying out his hit, or setting one up, he quietly writes things in that book. Is he the grim reaper? Does he represent organized crime? Is he a solo player? He is magical in a Satanic sense. He comes between two warring labor unions, creating enough distrust to destroy what they fight for and them also. One of the strangest characters is a little boy, the son of the first victim, who seems only intent on eating throughout the movie. At one point, he catches a frog, smashes it on the rocks, and then pulls off its skin. He seems immune to emotion and we only know that he is a little eating machine. This is a film that you will think about for a long time if you can find it. It is unsatisfying on the one hand and highly provocative on the other.
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7/10
It's Really Complicated!
WILLIAM FLANIGAN1 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Viewed on DVD. Cinematography = nine (9) stars; exterior set design = eight (8) stars. In his feature-film maiden voyage, Director Hiroshi Teshigahara demonstrates that he can be a master of the provocative (provocative extraordinary)---when he closes to be--with films that are filled (actually packed in this case) with incidents and shots that evoke as many interpretations as there are viewers (and likely even more with re-viewing!). What you think you see is, well, your unsettling take away. The film elicits a vague sense of dread right from the opening scenes which does not seem to go completely away! Teshigahara's principal tome is about the nastiness of capitalism (coal mine owners (who are never seen)) and the it's exploitation/enslavement of laborers (coal miners). But he also has a lot more on his mind such as: the exploitation of young itinerant coal miners by older former miners; miners who have run away only to be hunted down and captured (like military deserters); mine-owner benefits from inducing conflicts between/within miners' unions; murder mysteries involving contract killings of union leaders; ghosts (both human and canine (the latter may have been eaten by the former)); land rape by coal mining companies (represented by the bleak landscape of abandoned coal fields in Northern Kyūshū); deadly misidentification which isn't what it seems to be; how the dead might confront and try to solve the mystery of their own murders; symbolic use of white; etc. Acting is OK except for: outdoor death scenes which go on and on (and on); and the somnambulism of actress Sumie Sasaki. Exterior locations (depressing landscapes and a river with quick-sand like mud shores) and set design (a ghost town you may have seen in other films) are outstanding. Cinematography (narrow screen, black and white) uses an antique format, but nonetheless is excellent with many elaborate tracking shots and the extensive use of the deep focus photographic process. Lighting is very good except for early on when some scenes are under lit. "Music" (mostly banging on pots and pans with unusual extractions from a harpsichord?) inter grades with sound effects. The former is always cacophonous and jarring, but is quite effective as a scene booster, and, intimately, becomes rather enjoyable. Subtitles are missing for the young juvenile (who only speaks during the early scenes); but the names of all the players who have speaking parts seem to have been translated along with production department leads. Worth watching several times if only to experience ongoing changes in your perspective. WILLIAM FLANIGAN, PhD.
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8/10
Great
Cosmoeticadotcom1 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The film is daring, not only narratively, but technically, employing many styles: using real documentary footage, using reverse emotion photography, and numerous other technical feats that all serve the story- there is no ostentation, only utility (unlike, say, the films of Jean Cocteau). And this makes one wonder why so many films are so straightforward and dull, visually, when the very usage of such techniques actually complexes a rather simple narrative quite dramatically. Some critics have carped that the film is not that realistic in its depiction sof its characters; especially the dueling union heads who end up killing each other. But, as someone who has spent decades in such labors, the film is depressingly accurate in its portrayal of how easily a dastardly company can pit labor interests against one another. In fact, I would say, that in the less philosophic aspects of the tale, the film is amongst the most realistic portrayals of unionism going; in many ways more so than even a film like Norma Rae. And the portrayal of the company-hired assassin recalls that other great corporate malfeasance film, Akira Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well, while the ironic bleakness recalls Kon Ichikawa's Fires On The Plain.

The DVD package, from The Criterion Collection, Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara, comes with a fourth disk of supplements, the main feature of which is a documentary about Teshigahara and his Kobo Abe's lives and collaborations. There are also four short early documentaries by Teshigahara, none of which presage his fictive films. They are: Hokusai, Ikebana, Tokyo 1958, and Ako. The actual disk with Pitfall on it contains the theatrical trailer and a video essay by film critic James Quandt on it. Overall, it is a solid video package- with a few early blemishes, shown in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, although the lack of an English language dubbed track would have been a great help because the white subtitles blanche out against many of the ultra-white shots of the film. The booklet features a career overview by Peter Grilli, an interview with the director, and essays on the films. Hiroshi Segawa's cinematography is very daring, and the scoring, by Toru Takemitsu, is always apropos to the scene, underscoring emotions, never exaggerating them, and often adding to the scenes with an askewness to what is seen, which throws a viewer into a different state of mind, aiding the feeling of alienation many of the characters feel.

This alienation is at its greatest when one realizes that the first two murders of the miner and the candy saleswoman are incidental to the real 'meat' of the film. And, in this way, Teshigahara is offering up his version of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, wherein the character the viewer presumes is the film's main character, is not. He is merely a plot device, whose raison d'etre is left hanging. The same cannot be said for his son, who witnesses four murders and the brutal sex between the cop and the candy saleswoman. In this way, the film also neatly sunders the convention of a close father and on the road, as portrayed in such films as The Bicycle Thief and Il Grido. That both of those films were influenced by documentary forms, as was Teshigahara's work is no coincidence; as is Teshigahara's will to break with the tried and true.

Pitfall is a film that is great because it is daring, it does not bite off more than it can chew, it provides a strong narrative, but leaves enough mystery for the viewer to cogitate on through multiple viewings, is technically strong, in all areas, and provides solid enough acting (never great) that its just mentioned framework of excellence never frays. It provides a narrative for those drawn to plot first films, yet also has a philosophic heft that works on many levels- from the existential to the ethical, and touches upon identity, the layers of the self, and what is and is not private and is and is not evil. It may be a bit less daring than Teshigahara's later The Face Of Another, as well as lacking in as much razzle-dazzle and narrative complications, but it is also less flawed, and this latter quality is why it stands taller as a great work of art than the later film. However, both films evince an undeniable fact- Hiroshi Teshigahara was a force of great talent and achievement in Japanese and world cinema, and the world of art, and that at large, is poorer for his absence, and the absence of his creative descendants. Hence, sometimes less really, and only, is less.
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