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Countercurrents: The Films of Yasuzo Masumura

Saturday, September 20, 1997
Afraid to Die
Yasuzo Masumura Japan, 1960

(Karakkaze yaro). Among the pleasures of this stylishly offbeat New Wave gangster film is the late novelist Yukio Mishima in the starring role. He plays Takeo, a young thug who reluctantly leaves prison to enter a maze of attempted assassinations and retaliations. Already, in 1960, the film is three-fourths yakuza satire, and Mishima's posturing throws the emotionally impermeable antihero into relief (The False Yakuza). The title Karakkaze yaro translates as "A Man Blown by the Wind," but Takeo is blown by more tangible forces of family duty (no less magnetic in this underworld family than in the traditional family of an Ozu film); self-preservation; and sexual desire for the outspoken ingenue Yoshie (Ayako Wakao, cast against type). Masumura crams a lot of issues, from labor strikes to women's choice to industrial espionage, into the fast-paced plot. Set pieces include love on a merry-go-round, death on an escalator, and a marvelously underplayed gangland standoff/sitdown in the Tokyo train station. Look for Seven Samurai's Takashi Shimura as Boss Asahina, decked out in full-body tattoos.

• Written by Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Ando. Photographed by Hiroshi Murai. With Yukio Mishima, Ayako Wakao, Eiji Funakoshi, Takashi Shimura. (96 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, 'Scope, 35mm, PFA Collection, permission Daiei)