AFRAID TO DIE (Karakkaze yarô)

(director/writer: Yasuzo Masumura; screenwriters: Hideo Ando/Ryuzo Kikushima; cinematographer: Hiroshi Murai; editor: Tatsuji Nakashizu; music: Tetsuo Tsukahara; cast: Yukio Mishima (Takeo Asahina), Ayako Wakao (Yoshie Koizumi), Keizo Kawasaki (Shoichi Koizumi), Eiji Funakoshi (Aikawa), Takashi Shimura (Gohei Hirayama, tattooed godfather), Yoshie Mizutani (Masako), Toshiko Hasegawa (Ayako Takatsu), Shigeru Kôyama (Masa the the Asthmatic), Jun Negami (Sagara); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masaichi Nagata; Fantoma; 1960-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“… bold, weird and unpredictable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Japanese New Wave director Yasuzo Masumura’s (“Giants and Dolls”/”Hoodlum Soldier”) satirical yakuza pic is an unsentimental look at the underworld types, their macho fantasies and unbridled egotism. The Daiei Studio meant it as a vehicle for the celebrity novelist Yukio Mishima, some of whose works were used in their films, who would commit suicide in 1970 when caught up in a convoluted tangle–the married family man got involved in the world of homosexual rough trade. Mishima plays the lead as a leather-clad gang leader who resembles “a man blown by the wind,” a yakuza who doesn’t look or act like one most of the time. The film’s theme centers around his inability to commit to being either a gangster or going straight, which results in dire consequences when he finally goes soft. Cowriters with Masumara are Hideo Ando and Ryuzo Kikushima, who stray from the usual formulaic Japanese gangster versions of the 1950s by making it bold, weird and unpredictable.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

It opens with a botched assassination attempt on cowardly gang boss Takeo Asahina (Yukio Mishima) while he’s still in Tokyo Prison, as the hitman gets the wrong man. While playing volleyball in prison, Takeo has a fellow inmate sub for him to see a visitor. The hit was ordered by rival gang leader Sagara (Jun Negami), whom Takeo knifed in the leg–the incident that sent him to prison. Reluctant to leave the relative safety of the prison, Takeo is nevertheless released the next day when his time is up and manages to sneak a ride in a cop car to safety. The wily ex-con returns to his old haunts, where his uncle Gohei Hirayama (Takashi Shimura), sporting a full-bodied tattoo, looks upon him with contempt for not going after his rival and gives him a gun. The Asahina gang is down to three members, the other being his cynical longtime friend Aikawa (Eiji Funakoshi). Takeo says he wants time to get money together to build a gang, and sees his singer girlfriend Masako (Yoshie Mizutani) only to tell her he’s dumping her because his rival will be watching her closely. He then hides out in a flophouse his gang owns, fearing for his life, after discovering his rival brought in an out-of-town hitman named Masa (Shigeru Kôyama) who has a severe case of asthma and while he dogs his prey clutches onto his inhaler for dear life making him seem almost as hopelessly inept as Takeo. The coward’s gang also own a movie house in that seedy neighborhood, where he meets pretty theater cashier Yoshie Koizumi (Ayako Wakao) and offers her cash when she asks for a pay raise. When she turns down his money, he falls in love with her and gets her pregnant (this is after saying women are just toys). Given to temper tantrums, Takeo slaps Yoshie around when she refuses an abortion; but this only makes her love him more (go figure chicks!). The only decent character in the movie is her labor activist brother Shoichi (Keizo Kawasaki), who can’t stand the yakuza. He’s snatched by the rival and beaten and held for ransom in response to Takeo snatching his young daughter earlier to raise money to buy a massage parlor and other legit businesses. When Takeo thinks he’s settled things with his rival and has opted to move with Yoshie to Osaka and lead a normal life, the asthma hitman strikes when he comes out of a store buying things for his expected child and he meets his end on a crowded mall escalator saying “I never expected this… .”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”