Ichiro, the reckless son of a private detective, takes on the case of a minor league baseball pitcher who disappears right before signing a contract into the major leagues. Meanwhile, the body of an orthopedist is discovered in the river.
Fukasaku's first film. A minor but not insignificant work, strongly influenced by 40s American noir and gangster films.
The story, set in Japan, centers around a group of miscreants and career criminals, among them a spy, prostitute, and three Americans: a GI, a racketeer, and his wife. They are blackmailed into robbing a U.S. Army payroll by a ruthless Yakuza boss. The boss himself is a victim of double-dealing and treachery; virtually everyone involved has a hidden agenda.
The story is fairly compelling, exploring the vast intersection of racism, opportunism and sexual frustration that grew in what essentially amounted to U.S. occupation in the post-war period.
The film is well paced, shot in a crisp, alluring black and white with attention to period detail. The film is not unlike THE KILLING, from director Stanley Kubrick.
But unlike Kubrick's masterful tale of a heist, that despite meticulous planning, unravels through human folly, HIGH NOON FOR GANGSTERS has acting that is often downright miserable.
And the fault may lie with the ambition of the script. Japanese and American actors speak both English and Japanese (the film has Japanese subtitles as well) and while the Asian actors handle both languages with aplomb, the Americans can barely act in their own language.
Perhaps Fukasuku had an imprecise grasp of the English language at the time, or simply didn't envision the film playing to American audiences. Which is unfortunate, as the film's moral center is the complex character of Tom -- a violent, sexually voracious black GI who finds inner peace with a "half-breed" prostitute -- portrayed by an actor who lacks the resources to even play a part with no lines.
The resolution is violent and explosive, but mostly numbing. If Tom had been a little more believeable, the film would have had a sense of tension and pathos that would have elevated it (and the ending) to a much greater status; but Fukasaku's prodigious output that followed more than offered him the chance to improve upon his first effort.
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