Friday, 24 January 2014

Just watched: Pitfall

Pitfall, or Otoshiana, is a 1962 film which is initially about two deserters and a child moving from job to job, trying to avoid the law, and then one gets an offer elsewhere. Once he arrives at the location, there’s nothing but a deserted ghost town, with only a woman who runs a corner shop.

While he tries to find a particular place on a map, a mysterious man in a white suit begins to follow him and, before long, stabs him to death. Soon after this, the man’s ghost appears and tries to find out why he was killed.

Despite being shot over fifty years ago in a style which seems very slow and mannered today, it is a very modern story. Since he is a ghost, our hero cannot be seen or heard, so he mostly just offers commentary on the investigation which shifts from the police to journalists and finally to the guy who apparently was meant to be killed but our hero was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This structure can be a little odd. While I was watching the journalists, I was wondering what the police were up to, and I was expecting them to come back into the story. But it was wrong of me to think of this as a police drama. It is more of a commentary on the working conditions of Japan, with a murder mystery added on.

It’s directed by Teshigahara Hiroshi, and it looks great. The suffocating heat of the summer really comes through, and the framing and composition is also very good. The story was entertaining, but somewhat disappointing. Having set up an interesting crime, the film doesn't seem very interested in solving it. The consequences of the murder are more important than the reason for the murder.

I'm left wondering if part of my confusion is simply a cultural thing. If I'd seen it in Japan in the 1960s maybe the symbolism of the man in the white suit, and the theme of trade union disputes would have made more sense. Either way, a good film, and I hope to find more of Teshigahara's work soon.

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