I’ve been on a bit of a Japanese movie kick of late and recently picked up Criterion’s new release of Pale Flower, Masahiro Shinoda’s excellent 1964 yakuza film. I’d never seen it before and really loved it.
If you like arthouse, black & white, and yakuza movies, this is definitely the film for you. I won’t go into a plot synopsis (you can read one on the Criterion site or Wikipedia, etc.), but here are some of the things I like about it: the opening scene is fantastic (as are all the gambling scenes), the main character’s feeling of resignation to his fate slowly growing until it’s palpable, the grainy black and white feel of the whole film, the fantastic character faces throughout (not only in the supporting cast, but also in the crowd scenes shot in Yokohama), and the fabulous last shot of the film.
Also included is a fantastic 2010 interview with director Masahiro Shinoda, who provides great insight into the times, why he chose to film in Yokohama, and the origin of some of the experimental soundtrack. He also talks about how he came to choose Ryo Ikebe (who passed away in late 2010) as the lead and how seamlessly Ikebe slipped into the role.
Another interesting element of the film is that it is based on a story by Shintaro Ishihara, who had fame in his youth as a novelist and story writer. I’m no fan of Ishihara in his role as governor of Tokyo, but seeing Pale Flower has made me curious about his most famous literary work, Season of the Sun, which won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize. If any readers have read it and either recommend it or think I should steer clear of it, let me know in the comments!
The Pale Flower trailer for those who want a bit more: