Monday, February 22, 2010

the revenge: a visit from fate (k kurosawa, 1997)

A Visit from Fate begins badly, with ominous synthesizer music suggesting Kurosawa’s worst film (that I’ve seen), his 1992 killer-thriller The Guard From Underground, as well as some cutting and blocking that feels arbitrary and clumsy. It gets better, although as far as shoestring-budgeted Kiyoshi Kurosawa-directed, Shô Aikawa-starring, Yakuza-related revenge thriller diptychs from the late 1990s are concerned, the back-to-back Eyes of the Spider / The Serpent’s Path are considerably more refined, although equal in both means and scale. Still, Kurosawa finds the quickest way to my heart by tempering his pictorial absurdities (such as a sequence, which is staged twice, involving the hero and the villain trying to shoot each other, over and over again, and missing completely) with unpredictable, organic compositions that seem ready to explode from every direction. For a director who seems to prefer contemplative distance, many of his frames feel uncomfortably intimate; to prefer sober, gray realism, many environments are comically over-cluttered; to prefer forensic precision, people are either invincible, or they clutch their bellies and keel over like Monty Python sketch victims. Police stations and gangland hideouts alike seem to be established in abandoned warehouses, run-down, neglected wharves, and other disreputable locales. A key death is brilliantly underplayed – emphasizing the convoluted set-up and kidnapping, misreporting the fact, and revealing the death nonchalantly, barely giving time to register the grief it causes. The players seem to run breathlessly, yet resignedly, to their next destination, barely making connections meet.

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