The man who came too late. The second part

by Earl Jackson

In 1939, Sadaho Maeda was born in Fukuoka, the third of five children of an Imperial Army pilot and a retired track and field runner. When he was still a young boy, the family moved to Chiba Prefecture, where Sadaho grew up. Perhaps that location was the inspiration for Toei’s advertising people in 1960 to rename this “new face”: Shin’ichi Chiba. He became a teen favorite as a “funky hat” detective in a series directed by Kinji Fukasaku, then gained another fan base with his pursuit of serious martial arts training. Chiba was already a powerhouse when the three “Street Fighter” movies in 1974 introduced him to the world as Sonny Chiba.

If the world had given him more time, Toru Murakawa’s “Games Trilogy” in 1978-1979, he could have done the same with Yusaku Matsuda. Although it was always too late for Matsuda, we now have time to reassess the trilogy in all its troubled, messy, and contradictory glory as an important part of Japanese film history and a legacy cut short.

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The game trilogy

One of the challenges to a full commitment to the trilogy is its mode of masculinity. It might help to consider that it is not so much a core belief as communication noise. Director Toru Murakawa’s description of the risk involved in making a film usefully summarizes the contradictions in the male exhibit: “You make a film to be seen. . . . It’s like pulling our Matanki マタンキ out.”

Although the context makes it relatively easy to guess, only those who were teenagers in the 1970s would know the term. Matanki. The term was coined and later used frequently by characters in the manga “Dr. Toilet” that appeared in Weekly Shonen Jump between 1970 and 1977. It is kintama backward. kintama is slang for testicles. The testicles metaphorically signify masculine power, while in physiological reality the testicles are the most vulnerable part of the male anatomy. In a sort of rhetorical parallel, by using Matanki, Murakawa describes exposing the testicles with a word that hides that exposure, while also confessing the childishness of such bravado. Narumi’s reclusive personality and her ability to kill without remorse are presented with a similar subliminal undermining of portrayal.

The “game trilogy” is based on a very simple premise: Shuhei Narumi (Yusaku Matsuda) is a highly-skilled hitman who will kill a target for 20 million won. Narumi is another character with no background: it’s never explained where he acquired his seemingly inexhaustible arsenal; how he acquired the deadly abilities from him; or why he has chosen this life. He accepts a commission without hesitation, until he suspects a betrayal or a complication on the part of those who hired him.

These simple transactions with this relatively one-dimensional character, however, take place in a world that operates with its own logic: actions do not necessarily have consequences; chance events are intertwined with coincidences that seem to suggest an inexorable fate in action; the motivations range from fluid to contradictory, all culminating in narratives that feel like Seijun Suzuki without the whimsy. The only drive toward consistency is the game, the contract between the client and the killer, and even this contract is unstable and volatile.

The trilogy should be thoroughly enjoyed for its own rhapsodic action and suspense, and my thoughts on the film won’t interfere with the thrills on offer. My readings of the films will be only partial and more interested in the richness of the text than the twists and turns of the plot. I will focus on a duality between Narumi’s negotiations with and against the game world and the relationship of Matsuda’s image with the mechanisms of the film as a film. In “A Most Dangerous Game, I will examine the world introduced into the narrative and the film’s status as part of Japanese film history in its casting. In “Killing Game”, I will look at the dissonance between Narumi’s silence and Matsuda’s voice. In “Running Game”, I will consider the memory loop. I won’t expose all the intricacies of the games, as that would imply spoilers. And I’ll only go into a summary of the plot of the first film, as it makes explicit the template for the horror zones featured in all three films.

The Most Dangerous Game (1978)

The world of Shohei Narumi is introduced in a sequence whose cross section creates a temporal dissonance. The film begins with the police discovering the body of the president of Tonichi Heavy Industries, who had been kidnapped (Fig. 1).

There is a linear progression from the close-up of the body to the newspaper article. Then there is a cut to a mahjong game where Narumi is losing (Fig. 2).

The other players represent a glimpse into the history of Japanese cinema, from veteran actor Hyoe Enoki to young rising stars Kyohei Shibata and Renji Ishibashi. And watching but not interacting is singer/songwriter Uchida Yuya. By not participating, he essentially appears as himself (reminiscent of Edie Sedgwick’s presence on “Vinyl (Andy Warhol 1965), thus lending support to the Japanese alternative music/art scene. The assistant director (for this film and for “Killing Game”), Yoichi Sai, also made his directorial debut in 1983 with “Mosquito on the Tenth Floor.” And after some impressive crime movies dealing with Okinawan politics, he would “come out” as a zainichi Korean director with “All Under the Moon” in 1993 and would continue that important intervention with “Blood and Bone” (2004) and his Korean film, “Soo” (2007).

The film cuts to another report of an executive kidnapping, Nakamura, the vice president of the Godai Conglomerate, showing the special forces leaving their headquarters, followed by another newspaper article. And then a return to the game of mahjong, and another cut to a third kidnapping, this time showing the actual act. The parallels cannot be simultaneous, as each crime-related segment involves the passage of a considerable amount of time, certainly at least two days, if not more, while the players’ clothing marks the mahjong game as an event. continuous. The parallels end with Narumi losing heavily, unable to pay, and accusing the others of cheating. They brutally beat him and while he was recovering he was called to the offices of Tonichi Electronics, by its president, Kohinata (Asao Uchida).

Uchida figures in both levels of the film. In the narration, she makes the connection between the two hitherto unrelated opening sequences. She hires Narumi to rescue Nanjo, the victim of the third kidnapping, her son-in-law and explains the plot -in both senses of the story- so far and the conspiracy behind the crimes (Fig.3).

Fig. 3. Asao Uchida works both in the narrative and in the cinematographic story.

According to Uchida, Godai and Tonichi Electronics were competing for a contract to create and maintain an air defense system over Japan. The kidnappings were just a ruse to assassinate key Tonichi executives for the project. Godai apparently conspired to kidnap his own vice president to cover up his actions. Furthermore, the power behind Godai is the criminal overlord’s fixer, Adachi Seishiro (Bontaro Miake). On the other level, both Uchida and Miake are great yakuza movie characters. Uchida is instantly recognizable, which also foreshadows his lack of confidence, while his filmography further embeds the film within the legacy of the genre.

The game goes awry when one of the kidnappers fatally shoots the hostage as Narumi was leading him to freedom. But it turns out this was just a test, and Kohinata actually wants Narumi to kill Adachi, one of many cases where the game changes the rules and motivations. But as Narumi prepares for the actual mission, he himself is captured and tortured by a cabal of rogue policemen protecting Adachi, led by Detective Katsuragi (Ichiro Araki). (Figure 4)

Fig. 4. Ichiro Araki suggests counterculture support for the film.

Araki’s presence re-integrates legacy actors with the counterculture. Araki is a well-known singer-songwriter, as well as an actor, who has worked with leading “outlaw” directors Teruo Ishii and Nagisa Oshima. Indeed, Araki’s starring role as a sex-obsessed student in Oshima’s “Sing a Song of Sex” (1967) gives him a sort of decadent air, a sleaze amplified by the recurring reference to his infected finger, an infection that suggests an STD. His tenacious pursuit of Narumi and the signs of his physical corruption will be revisited in the figure of the rampant xenophobic Defense Agency officer Oikawa (Atsuro Watabe) in “Zebraman”. (Takashi Miike 2004) who led a campaign to erase all forms of “difference” from the national body while himself writhing in itchy agony from an infestation of pubic crab lice (Fig. 5)

Fig. 5 Atsuro Watabe, Zebraman’s (Sho Aikawa) nemesis riding on crabs. zebra man (Takashi Miike 2004).

The clue to the specific mode of anxiety that drives not just the first film, but all three, is contained in Kohinata’s depiction of the national security system at the center of her conflict with Adachi. The description of him is illustrated by a strange montage. The most significant image, however, is the map of Japan (Fig. 6). The security system would monitor the skies for an enemy attack. However, Japan has not had a military for 33 years in 1978, so it is not clear what this system could do defensively. The map transforms Japan into zones of terror, sky-borne terrors the nation knows all too well, from the firebombing of Tokyo to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Fig. 6. Japan as a network of terrorist zones.

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