Afraid to Die
Time Out saysMasumura has a niche alongside Seijun Suzuki as an anomalous figure from the last decade of Japan's studio system. A cosmopolitan intellectual who studied at Rome's Centro Sperimentale, he worked as a studio hack but made the odd gem, usually focusing on resistance to conformity in Japanese society. This proto-generic yakuza thriller is scrappily plotted and lacks drive, although its mise-en-scène is often rather beautiful. The lasting interest is that Daiei Co. put it together as a vehicle for the novelist Mishima, who shows off his pecs in the role of Asahina: a leather-clad hood fresh out of jail torn between finishing the botched job that earned him time and going to ground with his new plaything (Wakao), who luckily doesn't mind getting slapped around. The travails of her labour activist brother (Kawasaki) provide the main subplot. Incidental pleasures include a hitman known as Masa the Asthmatic, and seeing Takashi Shimura (star of Ikiru and other Kurosawa movies) as a tattooed godfather. Nagisa Oshima was Masumura's first critical champion but recanted after seeing this, disgusted by the indulgence of Mishima's macho fantasies.