Thursday, May 8, 2014

Akuto (1965) aka A Scoundrel

It is the fourteenth, and Japan is in a state of political upheaval and civil war. The old aristocracy is being challenged by the emergence of a new samurai class made up of armed peasants that has emerged from the foothills. The country has been divided in two, with two Emperors both claiming the throne. It is against this backdrop that Kaneto Shindo weaves his tale of lust and violence that ends only in tragedy. A provincial governor, Moronao, has fallen in love with the beautiful wife of a powerful samurai, and demands his crony and servant, Jijyu, act as his go-between. But what starts out as a kind of schoolboy crush soon takes on deadly consequences. Like in his more famous works, Onibaba and Kuroneko, Shindo renders the film in an elegant widescreen black and white. No shot is wasted, and each one is perfectly composed. He often creates tension through the use of drawn-out long takes, and chiaroscuro lighting. Though not a horror film, Shindo does use a lot of the same techniques seen in horror to tell his tale. However, his deliberate style ultimately backfires, rendering A Scoundrel just too drawn-out and tedious. Coming in at just a minute under two hours, this is a story that could have been told in under ninety minutes had much of the unnecessary exposition been left cut out. It is only near the end that one feels a sense of emotional involvement in the proceedings. Eitarô Ozawa's performance as the boorish governor, and Kiyoshi Kuroda's cinematography are ultimately what make A Scoundrel worth watching.

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