Intentions of Murder (Akai satsui) [DVD]
Director : Shohei Imamura
Screenplay : Keiji Hasebe and Shohei Imamura (based on a story by Shinji Fujiwara)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1964
Stars : Masumi Harukawa (Sadako Takahashi), Kô Nishimura (Kiichi Takahashi), Shigeru Tsuyuguchi (Hiraoko), Yûko Kusunoki (Yoshiko Masuda), Ranko Akagi (Tadae Takahashi), Haruo Itoga (Yasuo Tamura), Yoshi Kato (Seizo Takahashi), Tanie Kitabayashi (Kinu Takahashi), Kazuo Kitamura (Seiichiro Takahashi), Seiji Miyaguchi (Genji Miyata), Shoichi Ozawa (Kazuyuki Tamaru), Taiji Tonoyama (Musician)
While the title makes it sound like to a lurid noir thriller, Shohei Imamura’s Intentions of Murder is more properly described as a perversely twisted domestic melodrama about how Japanese society allows pathetic men to manipulate and control the women in their lives. The central character is Sadako (Masumi Harukawa), a fleshy young woman of little discernable character whose asthmatic common-law husband Kiichi (Kô Nishimura) constantly belittles her and treats her like a servant. He is so embarrassed by her that he has never entered her into his family register, so that she is not officially listed as the mother of their 6-year-old son. Kiichi’s barely disguised loathing of his wife is also shared by his mother, Tadae (Ranko Akagi), who takes every opportunity to put Sadako down.
Sadako has much in common with Rui, the much-abused but infinitely adaptable heroine of The Insect Woman (1963), Imamura’s previous film. Like Rui, Sadako comes from the country and has a disreputable family background, which makes it difficult if not impossible for her to be fully accepted in Japanese society. Both women also make the transition from country to city by taking jobs as maids, which is one of the few positions a poor, undereducated country woman could get. However, unlike Rui, who eventually rises to a position of power, Sadako remains consistently repressed, partially because her move to the “big city” landed her in a relatively unsophisticated northern province that is a far cry from the bright lights of Tokyo. Even more to the point, she became Kiichi’s common-law wife because he all but forced himself on her when she was hired as the family maid and got her pregnant, which means that her escape from one cage led directly to another.
The film’s perverse twist of fate occurs early in the story when a man (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi) breaks into Sadako’s house while her husband and son are away. At first demanding money, the man eventually rapes her, a violation from which tradition demands such shame and self-loathing that suicide becomes the only real option. However, Sadako finds that she does not, in fact, want to kill herself, and in this rejection of one of her culture’s most misogynistic traditions, she finds the beginning traces of liberation. The liberation is not immediate, though, and Imamura drags out the story and Sadako’s continued mistreatment as a way of suggesting that there are no simple escapes or immediate freedoms. Rather, Sadako is continually hounded by her rapist, who shows up again and again professing love for her and a desire for them to run away together. At the same time, her husband becomes suspicious that she is having an affair, which causes him to treat her with even more vicious contempt.
Nevertheless, Sadako eventually prevails in her own way, not because she is a cunning opportunist, but rather because she simply survives. In Sadako, who is sweet-faced and sincere and doesn’t seem too terribly bright, Imamura grounds the dignity of endurance, which shines all the brighter because she is surrounded by men who are consistently weak, misguided, and pathetic both physically and spiritually. The two men in her life, her husband and her rapist, are both physically frail. Kiichi, who works as a librarian (Imamura describes him as a “bookworm crawling around inside one of his own books”) is constantly sick and in need of his inhaler, and he wears a surgical mask whenever he goes outside. He is also a blatant hypocrite, as he has been carrying on a long-term affair with a bespectacled woman at work who clearly wants more from him than he can give. Her rapist, on the other hand, is a weak-minded musician with a frail heart whose violence is little more than a sad extension of his general desperation. Even her son is described at one point as being weak and is generally depicted as a pint-sized version of the awful, self-absorbed men in her life.
By the time he made Intentions of Murder, Imamura’s themes about the underbelly of Japanese society and the role of strong women in a culture that generally feared and sought to repress them had been solidified, and while this film embodies those themes quite strongly, much of it feels like a retread. There are moments of visual brilliance and raw emotional power, particularly in Imamura’s framings that use the ’Scope frame to give us both extreme close-ups and long shots that comment on each other, as well as his powerful use of light and dark to keep your eyes busy and moving. Imamura also employs several surreal dream sequences to flesh out some of the film’s emotional undercurrents, which, along with the film’s scathing portrait of social hypocrisy, have earned it many comparisons to the films of Luis Buñuel. Sadako eventually finds her own way and emerges triumphant, which Immaura foreshadows early in the film with her son’s pet mice devouring each other (much ado is made about the fact that the smaller one ate the larger one). Yet, perhaps because Sadako is such an enigmatic character, a woman who is not entirely resolved or even aware of what her strengths might be, the film feels as if it is missing a center.
|Intentions of Murder Criterion Collection DVD|
|Intentions of Murder is available exclusively as part of the three-disc “Pigs, Pimps, and Prostitutes: 3 Films by Shohei Imamura” box set (SRP $79.95), which also includes Pigs and Battleships (1961) and The Insect Woman (1963).|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|SRP||$79.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||May 19, 2009|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion has given all three films in this box set new high-definition transfers from what appear to be the best possible elements. Both Pigs and Battleships and The Insect Woman were transferred from their original 35mm camera negatives, while Intentions of Murder was taken from a 35mm fine-grain master positive. All three films were also put through the MTI Digital Restoration System to remove virtually all signs of age and damage in the form of nicks, dirt, and speckles. Given that the three films were made one right after the other at the same studio, they each have about the same level of technical polish, even though each has a slightly different look. While all three films were shot in black and white, they have varying levels of contrast and evidence of fading, with Pigs and Battleships looking the “grayest.” Intentions of Murder is the darkest of the three films, with plenty of blacks that are nicely rendered with only minimal traces of grain. Detail in each transfer is decent, but not particularly great, resulting in images that appear slightly soft. The original monaural soundtracks were also given careful transfers and digitally restored, giving us sound that is relatively clean, crisp, and lacking in ambient hiss or pops.|
|There are two video interviews included on this disc. In the first interview, film historian Tony Rayns discusses the film and puts it in its proper historical and culture context. In the other interview, which appears to have been shot for Japanese television some time in the early 1980s, film critic Tadao Sato talks with Shohei Imamura about the film, especially its use of locations and the casting.|
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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