Crime Wave [1985/II]

The six films in the Criterion Crime Wave 6-Pack were shown together on on the International Film Channel in January 2004. Although best known for his samurai classics, Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa proved himself equally adept at contemporary dramas and thrillers, and 1962's High and Low offers a powerful showcase for Kurosawa's versatile skill. The great Toshiro Mifune stars as a wealthy industrialist who receives a phone call informing him that his son has been kidnapped, and by unfortunate coincidence the ransom demand is nearly equivalent to the amount Mifune has raised for a corporate coup. What follows is both a tense detective thriller, as the police attempt to track down the kidnapper, and a compelling illustration of class division in Japan--the "high and low" of the title. Far be it from Kurosawa to make a mere thriller, however; this loose adaptation of the Ed McBain novel King's Ransom provides the director with ample opportunity to develop a visual strategy that perfectly enhances the story's sociological themes. --Jeff Shannon In Toyko Drifter, Seijun Suzuki transforms the yakuza genre into a pop-art James Bond cartoon as directed by Jean-Luc Godard. The twisting narrative takes hitman "Phoenix" Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari) from deliriously gaudy nightclubs, where killers hide behind every pillar, to the beautiful snowy plains of Northern Japan and back again, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Suzuki's extreme stylization, jarring narrative leaps, and wild plot devices combine to create a pulp fiction on acid, equal parts gangster parody and post-modern deconstruction. --Sean Axmaker There's Bonnie and Clyde--then there's Martha and Ray. One-shot writer-director Leonard Kastle set out to make a film about lover-murderers that was everything Arthur Penn's movie was not. He succeeded. Consequently, The Honeymoon Killers, based on the Lonely Hearts Killers case of 1949, may be too lurid for some. But there's a heart beating inside its (tawdry) chest and Kastle clearly cared about these two crazy, mixed-up kids who should never have met. But met Martha (Shirley Stoler) and Ray (Tony LoBianco) did and proceeded to fleece several widows before doing them in. The film isn't graphic in its violence, but each murder is increasingly disturbing. Dramatic lighting and dark passages from Mahler keep the mood close and clammy throughout. --Kathleen C. Fennessy Seijun Suzuki's absolutely mad yakuza movie Branded to Kill bends the hit-man genre so out of shape it more resembles a Luis Bunuel take on Martin Scorsese. Number three killer Goro Hanada (Jo Shishido) is a hired killer who loves his work, but when he misses a target, he becomes the next target of the mob. Goro is no pushover and easily dispatches the first comers, but the rat-a-tat violence gives way to a surreal, sadistic game of cat and mouse. The legendary Number One mercilessly taunts his target before moving in with him in a macho, testosterone-laden Odd Couple truce that ends up with them handcuffed together. Kinky? Not compared to earlier scenes. The smell of boiling rice sets Goro's libido for his mistress so aflame that Suzuki censors the gymnastic sex with animated black bars that come to life in an animated cha-cha. --Sean Axmaker 1965's Alphaville is a perfect example of Jean-Luc Godard's willingness to disrupt expectation, combine genres, and comment on movies while making sociopolitical statements that inspired doctoral theses and left a majority of viewers mystified. Part science fiction and part hard-boiled detective yarn, Alphaville presents a futuristic scenario using the most modern and impersonal architecture that Godard could find in mid-'60s Paris. A haggard private eye (Eddie Constantine) is sent to an ultramodern city run by a master computer, where his mission is to locate and rescue a scientist who is trapped there. As the story unfolds, the movie tackles a variety of topics such as the dehumanizing effect of technology, willful suppression of personality, saturation of commercial products, and, of course, the constant recollection of previous films through Godard's carefully chosen images. --Jeff Shannon The Belgian satire Man Bites Dog is dark, dark, dark--but also right on the money in its sly sendup of the media's fascination with violence and its complicity therein. This mock documentary has a trio of filmmakers shooting a cinéma vérité feature about a garrulous serial killer who lets the film crew follow him around as he selects victims and then dispatches them. But at what point does filmmaking become participation? These hapless documentarians soon find out as their subject eventually pulls them into his world, including a gun battle with a rival film crew and their own criminal star. Gruesomely hilarious, with a deadpan wit that's hard to resist. --Marshall Fine

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