Pale Flower ~ (Japan, 1964) ~ Netflix Stream

Muraki is just out on parole, having served three years for a murder. A yakuza, he did his time for killing a rival gang member. While he was in the slammer though, the two gangs banded together against a third rival. This leaves Muraki in a tenuous position. The film starts with a voice over on his release, a voice over that says all you need to know about Muraki’s bleak take on the human race. Things may have changed, but at bottom, nothing really changes, and soon he finds himself at one of his old, familiar haunts: a local gambling den. There, he is intrigued by mysterious woman gambler (Saeko). She plays a reckless style, seemingly unconcerned about her losses. She’s in it for the rush. When Saeko asks Muraki if he knows of any higher stakes games (she’s getting bored), he obliges. Both of them feel the energy of the experience, which is compounded afterwards by a high speed car race through the expressways of Japan. When it’s kick you’re looking for, there’s nothing that can match the first time. So even the newer high stakes games begin to pale.

Saeko then moves on to drugs, despite the warnings from Muraki, and becomes involved with a young hanger-on that obliges her. Muraki falls back to his old life, and even though he’s offered a pass when a critical assignment comes up, he takes it. What is there to lose? Saeko and Muraki are both world weary, their senses numbed, their world view bleakly pessimistic. Their search is for anything, any sensation that will make them feel their own pulse. This nihilistic outlook leads to only one place, to their own destruction. This is a film that  envelops itself in a stark moral vacuum.

Shot in a moody black and white with exciting framing techniques. Some scenes are as through a window, so that the action is off to the right, surrounded by black space. There are several conversations between the two aging clan leaders, newly allied, that are extremely well made and well acted. A yakuza tale that is filmed as a noir gangster film, and it’s a simply perfect marriage.

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