Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kamata Kyoshin-kyoku (AKA Fall Guy, 1982) Movie Review

Ginshiro Kuraoka (Morio Kazama) is a one-time matinee idol type who has now begun to feel the plummeting weight of his fading star. Having to stoop to sneaking in as many closeups as possible in lieu of up and coming competition, the once proud star reveals to his astonished entourage a less than flattering side that is in no small way, an open admission of panic at his predicament. And it only gets worse upon the bombshell that his one-time movie favorite starlet girlfriend is four months pregnant. Enter the life of his most trusted stunt double in Yasu (Mitsuru Hirata), who is now essentially put upon to marry the discarded and heartbroken Konatsu (Keiko Matsuzaka) in the name of damage control. Both equally shocked by the former star's behavior, but also saddled with few options, the two eventually do agree to swap vows, which leads to Yasu's ever more daring overtures for increasingly dangerous action scene work. With Kinji Fukasakuat the helm, one can't shake the feeling that he has taken the lens away from his more familiar focus of ire, the world of the Yakuza, and turned it inward, as Kamata Kyoshin-kyoku is as savage an evisceration of the Japanese movie industry, as it is a wildly entertaining anti-comedy.

No sooner does the good-hearted, and humble Yasu take on this complicated responsibility, that his entire world becomes a winding rollercoaster of pain and hardship. Often taking double jobs within the same scene, pretending to have not had his chance prior to the crew, Yasu's dedication to his bride-to-be and unborn child begins to reach troubling levels. And all the while, Konatsu comes to better understand her erstwhile ex, as he has now set his sights on a younger, hopelessly dim bulb of a fan. Now even further feeling left behind, Konatsu attempts to better dedicate herself to her new circumstances. So when the film takes a sharp turn, leading to the return of Ginshiro to the core story, and a potentially death-defying stunt with Yasu singularly in mind, the film becomes a gut-wrenching time bomb along with Yasu, as he is pushed to his physical and emotional limits.

And while some may argue that such a premise is the last thing one considers to be one that could elicit laughter, Fukasaku's often frenzied direction and the work's effective performances create a world where the irony and laughter are interchangeable within a cultural context. While westerners might see much of this as often uncomfortable, and borderline melodramatic, it may be important to be familiar with the language of Japanese cinema, and the means by which little of this is filmed with abject seriousness in mind, save for the implications. Which is why Hirata's Yasu is so indelible. His unique blend of earnest simpleton, and selfless fool is an incredible draw for the film as he embodies more than merely a complex loser lead, but rather many of those who live the cinema dream, even while working in its stages. There is no spill too big, or bruise not worth flirting with. It's all in the name of this undefinable dream that is ever elusive, no matter how close one is with those already within the "winner's circle". Equally impressive is Matsuzaka, who carries with her a classic beauty who has like so many, settled well before their ability came to full flower in a industry obsessed with youth. But these two would not be so well established without the terrible force of nature that is Kazama as Ginshiro, who's diva manchild antics simply borderline on horrific.

Cleverly, the film begins within the confines of a cinematic world, as Ginshiro's most prideful face is on display during the filming of yet another period action piece. But just as soon as we see this, we are also witness to the reality regarding him, as well as the bit players on the set, which include day players such as Yasu, who seem set in their wishes for better work, even if it's for mere peanuts. So even as we get to know how good and dedicated a presence Yasu is to the clearly childlike and unstable Ginshiro, it becomes something of a masochistic relationship- more than likely borne out of a film world filled with individuals incapable of seeing their own worth, and often wiling to do anything to remain part of it. When considered in such a context, Yasu's role is no different than so many of Fukasaku's criminal outcasts. Always on the outside, looking in, and often at a heavy price.

So when the story reaches its final act, and the mutual worlds of  Yasu, Konatsu, and the film's reach critical mass, it is a boiling point that is both intentionally overwrought, and almost mocking of how such films in a standard movie world both seem so real and yet ineffectually manufactured. Worlds blur, and it's pretty stunning with how it is all handled.

While definitely not one of his most instantly accessible, Kamata Kyoshin-kyoku is a sneaky, brutal, often bleakly funny experience that is vital to J-film fans the world over.

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