One of the most stylishly shot courtroom dramas ever, beating Clouzot’s La Verite. Ayako Wakao, star of Seisaku’s Wife, is again the titular wife, again with marital problems. This time she’s defending herself in court, accused of self-widowing on a mountain climb so she could marry her lover and climbing buddy.

The facts are laid out right from the start: the married couple fell and Kouda was holding on, with Ayako in the middle and her husband dangling below. Kouda couldn’t pull them both up. She cut the rope below her, letting her husband fall to his death.

She testifies that she and her husband (Eitaro Ozawa: Minobe in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, Kinichi’s dad in Kiss) were never in love, but he wouldn’t allow a divorce. Meanwhile young, ambitious Kouda (Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Kinichi in Kiss) is engaged to his best client’s high-haired daughter Rie, but is spending all his time with the accused Ayako.

Kinichi and his dad, in love with the same woman:

Rie testifies:

The court case continues, experts are called in, stories are told by witnesses, a flashback within a flashback, as they try to determine whether Ayako had to kill her husband in order to save her own life. It has become a wide-open secret that the two surviving climbers are in love, and the day before the verdict, they go to the beach together as the soundtrack plays haunted string music. The next day she’s proclaimed innocent.

Kouda is dumping his fiancee and marrying Ayako, but surprised that she’s so quick to start spending her life insurance windfall. He grills her, and finally we get to see the fateful climb, as she confesses that she took the opportunity to get rid of her hateful husband, then Kouda calls her a liar and runs back to Rie. Ayako poisons herself, and Rie gets the last word: “Mr. Kouda, you killed her. If she’s a murderer, you’re also a murderer. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you again.”

Shot the year before Masumura’s Black Test Car, from the writer of three of Kurosawa’s most famous later films.

Berkeley: “combines the pessimistic observations of film noir with the sensuality that Masumura would pursue further in later films… an early film to deal openly with a woman’s feelings about sex… Within an unusually complex narrative structure, Wakao beautifully develops contradictory desires in her heroine – her lust to live and her wish to die – and somehow makes them one.” Rosenbaum: “A powerful metaphor for Japanese interdependence, this rope connecting the members of a romantic triangle is also tied, one might say, to Masumura’s major theme: the tragedy as well as the necessity of individual choice and desire in a highly interactive society.”

Okane (Ayako Wakao, star of Red Angel) comes from a poor family, is the young bride of a gross old man. So she poisons him to death, claims her inheritance and returns to her mother’s village, where the people completely ostracize her. When her mother dies from illness, Okane agrees to watch her retarded cousin Heisuke, and they live in their rich, lonely house.

When golden boy Seisaku (Takahiro Tamura, murdered husband in Empire of Passion) returns to the village, he gets the opposite reaction – constant praise and a parade in his honor. He takes to ringing a bell every morning to awaken the whole town and inspire them to get to work. He enlists people to help with Okane’s mother’s burial, chastising them for being terrible to her. Inevitably the two get together, but brave Seisaku returns to war, and everyone goes back to being shitty towards Okane for the next six months.

Okane, hated:

Seisaku, loved:

Seisaku returns wounded, and as full of honor as ever, promising next time he’ll die for his country. The two are unofficially married, sleeping together but nobody in town (and certainly not Seisaku’s family) takes her seriously. He’s all she has, and life is horrible without him, so she pokes out his eyes with a giant nail as he prepares to leave again.

Okane with Heisuke:

Okane with nail:

She’s sentenced to two years, and since Japan doesn’t understand logic, the whole town hates Seisaku for dishonorably failing to return to war, figuring he was in on the plot with his wife – a woman none of them ever trusted. During that time, he understands how it feels to be an outcast, and after Okane returns, they go away together. “Without you I would have stayed a stupid role model soldier.” Good story, but I was sick of the hateful villagers and wished for a Carrie ending: punishment for all.

Written by Kaneto Shindo, who also made the great Onibaba and died a month ago at the age of 100.

A straightforward rebellious-youth/romantic drama. Should’ve watched this with Katy, but I didn’t think Masumura would be her style. It’s one of Masumura’s earliest films, from the writer of Mizoguchi’s Story of the Last Chrysanthemums.

Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Hitomi Nozoe would also star together in Giants and Toys:

Moody Kinichi’s dad is accused of election fraud, will need 100k yen in fines. While visiting dad in jail, Kinichi runs across Akiko who’s also visiting her dad, also needs 100k. Their moms aren’t around – the boy’s wants nothing to do with the family anymore, is a jeweler or something, and the girl’s is in a sanatorium with TB. Akiko’s family friend, a famous painter, has a playboy son who sees his chance to buy her (even blatantly phrasing it that way) now that she’s in need.

Kinichi with mom: Aiko Mimasu, in Street of Shame the previous year

So it sounds like the movie could be a sordid drama about sad poor people, but it’s not that at all. Mostly it’s a light romance between the two heavy-hearted kids – at the racing track, the beach, a piano bar. Kinichi seems somewhat reckless at first, but he’s a good, responsible kid, finally gets the money from his mom, tracks down the girl (there’s extra drama when he loses her address) and gives it to her.

In smaller roles, the boy’s jailed dad (“Lawmakers are the crooks. Until the law changes, I’ll go to jail after every election”) is Eitaro Ozawa of Assassination and The Crucified Lovers, and the girl’s sad, sick mom is Sachiko Murase, star of Kurosawa’s Rhapsody in August.

60’s-style cool in a cinemascope stripe, more Seijun Suzuki than Red Angel. The upstart Tiger motor company tries to release a new sports car but the larger Yamoto company is trying to steal their ideas and sabotage their success. Asahina is a young Tiger engineer expected to become department head after the new car’s launch, but after going along with his bosses in the spy game – including selling out his girl to get trade secrets – he walks out at the end, saying Tiger has become as dirty as their competitors.

A test car crashes dramatically. Asahina’s girl Masako works at a bar, tries to get the competitors to talk. Tiger employees attempt to sell fake designs to Yamoto, but Yamoto has already stolen the real plans. A designer is kidnapped. A triple-crossing reporter gets payment from all sides. A board meeting is filmed through the window and a lip-reader employed to translate. A collector buys the first car off the line, rigs its destruction on train tracks and says the car was a lemon, drawing big publicity. The Tiger employee responsible for the leaks is discovered and kills himself. It’s all pretty action-packed for a movie populated by motor engineers.

The IMDB only feels like listing a few of the actors. Our moral hero was Jiro Tamiya, who costarred in a popular series of films known as Bad Reputation or Tough Guy. His girl was Junko Kano – didn’t act for long, not in anything else I’ve heard of. Bald Tiger unit boss Onada was Hideo Takamatsu of A Wife Confesses. Hiraki, fresh-faced son-in-law of the hospitalized company head, was Eiji Funakoshi, star of Fires on the Plain and Blind Beast.

AV Club:

Throughout his career, Masumura displayed a flair for the ludicrous, and frequently skewered his countrymen’s Westernizing pretensions by mocking the ways in which the new religion of business was costing them their souls. Black Test Car is largely effective because Masumura plays the story relatively straight. Shooting in stark black and white, in crowded rooms framed at cramped angles, Masumura keeps the mood tense and coaxes performances that are earnest without becoming campy. The boardroom chatter—along the lines of, “People want speed and luxury!”—coupled with the fast-paced editing make Black Test Car play like a darkly sophisticated live-action episode of Speed Racer.

An ugly, gray horrors-of-war movie. The twist here is that instead of simply running through all the reasons why war is hell, this one brings sex into the picture – not just the usual love and desire stuff, but a variety of situations dealing with sexual need during wartime.


Our titular heroine (Nishi) is a nurse in an army hospital in 1939 during Japan’s war with China. She spends some of her time at a base hospital where men with illnesses and minor injuries rest up before they are sent home or back into combat, and the rest of her time at an understaffed camp hospital at the front dealing with a constant flow of critically wounded men, fatalities and amputations. She is raped by a soldier who is sent back into combat to his death as punishment. She sexually services a man who lost both arms and can’t take care of himself anymore (but he commits suicide soon afterwards). Then she ends up at the front in love with a morphine-addicted surgeon, in a platoon where the local “comfort women” are spreading cholera to the troops, but the troops keep visiting them anyway. Mishi manages to get Dr. Okagi off the morphine so he can make love to her, but the place is destroyed in a Chinese raid a few hours later, everyone killed but Nishi. She finds Okagi’s body on the ground. The end!


A pretty interesting movie, definitely not the kind of war film I’ve seen before. Compassionate, but also somewhat hopeless given the surroundings and situations. I liked it, but can’t say I’m itching to watch it again.

Nishi is played by Ayako Wakao, who starred in a bunch of Masumura’s films (Seisaku’s Wife, Manji, A Wife Confesses, A False Student, Afraid To Die) as well as Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame (played the money-lending girl who opens her own shop at the end) and A Geisha, Ozu’s Floating Weeds, and Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge. Dr. Okagi appeared in Suzuki’s Underworld Beauty. And the armless guy starred in Oshima’s Naked Youth.


J. Rosenbaum:
“Roughly contemporary with M*A*S*H (as in Altman’s film, scenes of war-front surgery provide a corollary to Vietnam), it sometimes suggests a less comic treatment of the same theme–how to preserve one’s humanity amid impossible circumstances–but its ethics are considerably more developed.”

J. Sharp for Midnight Eye:

Made for Daiei Studios, Masumura’s stark wartime drama, an adaptation of a novel by Arima Yorichika, is one of the handful of films made in the mid 60s dealing with the personal experiences of those involved in the war, including the same director’s previous Hoodlum Soldier (Heitai Yakuza, 1965) and Seijun Suzuki’s Story of a Prostitute (Shunpuden, 1966). Both Masumura and Suzuki had been active towards the end of the war, and both used their experience to examine the conflicts and interpersonal dramas that arose on the frontline in order to question such concepts as duty and loyalty to their country. To this end both directors approach their subject using strong female protagonists whose role in the war is often forgotten, with Story of a Prostitute focusing on a group of prostitutes sent out to the frontline to service the soldiers, and Red Angel almost making analogous use of the nurses (although Masumura’s film does feature a group of prostitutes and takes pains to point out that the nurses duty is not the same as theirs!) In a world gone mad it is these female characters who provide the only source of stability and comfort, even morality, whilst the shell-shocked, emasculated walking wounded dream of returning home to their families.