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Review: A Certain Killer

Japan Society’s film department is hosting another retrospective, this time celebrating the illustrious career of Kazuo Miyagawa, one of my absolute favorite cinematographers. I’ve already preordered tickets for a triple feature on Saturday, but since I wasn’t working today, I decided to check out another movie that caught my eye: A Certain Killer, directed by the woefully underrated Kazuo Mori (who also helmed the Akira Kurosawa-scripted Vendetta of a Samurai).

Despite a somewhat pulpy premise, this isn’t your typical crime drama. Raizo Ichikawa, best known for portraying Daiei’s version of Nemuri Kyoshiro, plays a former kamikaze pilot turned stone-cold, no-nonsense contract killer with… well, not quite a heart of gold, but good intentions, at least. After a particularly lucrative job, a pair of his acquaintances (a meddlesome prostitute and a bumbling mid-level yakuza, who delude themselves into believing that they’re his accomplices) conspire to betray him—never a good idea in this genre. It’s a familiar plot, elevated by humorous supporting performances, a deliberate pace, and a Nolan-esque nonlinear narrative structure (courtesy of screenwriter Yasuzo Masumura). Of course, Miyagawa’s gorgeous compositions effortlessly steal the show, the vast, desolate industrial landscapes and muted color palette perfectly encapsulating the postwar moral decay and corruption that our protagonist so despises.

To make the evening even more special, the programmers not only secured a 35mm print, but also invited Miyagawa’s son to the screening; he sat in the row directly behind mine. Can’t beat an experience like that!

[Originally written April 17, 2018.]

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