A Fugitive From The Past  (Cert 15)

1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 183 minutes approx.

Release Date – September 26th

You can never escape your past. You can bury it, run away from it, change your name, and hope it never catches up with you, but it will never leave you. For some, this is their fate for doing wrong, for others it is their fate for doing right.

In 1947, as a typhoon hits Japan sinking a passenger ferry, three men use the mayhem as a distraction to sail to Hokkaido, having just committed a robbery and arson attack. The next morning, the bodies of two of the criminals are washed up on the shore – the third, Takichi Inukai (Rentarō Mikuni) arrives in Hokkaido where he meets zestful prostitute Yae Sugito (Sachiko Hidari), who takes a real shine to him.

After spending the night together, Inukai moves on, leaving Yae a sizeable wad of cash to pay off her family debts and move to Tokyo to get a better job. Meanwhile, the police are looking for Inukai and hope Yae will lead them to him. Ten years later, Yae still pines for Inukai and after spotting a man in the paper named Kyoichiro Tarumi who looks like him, pays him a visit with tragic consequences. As the police investigate, the story of Yae exposes a link to the events of ten years earlier.

Tomu Uchida breaks from his usual jidaigeki output for this epic adaptation of Tsutomu Minakami’s crime novel Kiga Kaikyo (Straits Of Hunger), a transformative tale of post-war Japan’s climbing out of a hole of poverty. The film itself bridges classic and modern cinema, with the gravitas of Kurosawa gradually giving way to the verve and intensity of the next generation, an interesting dichotomy as Uchida starting directing in 1922!

Part social melodrama, part procedural thriller, the double meaning behind the title A Fugitive From The Past takes a while to reveal itself. Don’t be put off by the length, Uchida captivates us almost immediately and doesn’t let up until the time has flown by. It is essentially a tale of three parts – Inukai’s story, Yae’s story, and Tarumi’s story, united by the shared thread of fate via fortune and misfortune.

Coming out of the war, it seems prosperity went one of two ways – those who are without either knuckle down and work for it, or allow their greed corrupt them to take it unlawfully. It would appear Inukai is among the latter group – something to remember for later when the philanthropic character of Tarumi is called into question. If we judge him by the company he keeps, Inukai would certainly be deemed guilty.

But the ever-cheery Yae sees a kind man in Inukai, and the instant love she feels for him has to come from somewhere. Then again, we have to ask how such a sweet girl ended up on the game; the answer is crippling family debts and Yae’s attempts at getting an “honest” job falling flat. At least she is working for her money, no matter how dubious that work is.

Unfortunately for Yae, the streets of Tokyo aren’t paved in gold, rather they are owned by feuding Yakuza, the purview of whom the bar she works at is under. It’s soon back on the game for Yae – the past she can’t escape – but at least Tokyo means more money, all of which Yae saves. There is also something else she has been saving, which I won’t reveal – suffice to say it is not a normal memento but it proves a valuable one.

Essentially two peas from the same pod, we can see how the parallels between Yae and Inukai brought them together; however, the convergence is brief and the separation longer. There is one other person affected by this story – Detective Yumisaka (Junzaburo Ban), the man Inukai evaded thanks to Yae’s protective lies. A decade later, Yumisaka is haunted by the case he couldn’t close, but fate is about to deal him a second chance.

One can look at this as an expansive crime drama, or a love story gone wrong which is fine, if a little reductive. Some knowledge of Japanese post-war history would help to understand the finer points of the social commentary, but the writing is so deep and the characters meticulously drawn, there is enough show and tell for the themes to come through. It is also quite apolitical as films often were at that time in Japan, with scant references to the war.

Known for his period films, Uchida attacks this modern day outing with the same sense of scope as evident by the sequence with the typhoon, whilst able to create graceful intimacy between his leads, or claustrophobic pressure when necessary. The prolix third act may slow the pace a little but the intensity never lets up, the camera trained on each face with noir-esque obsession waiting for one to crack. Every shot shines with class and style thanks to this glossy new HD transfer from Arrow films.

Rentarō Mikuni as Inukai charts one of the most intriguing character growths across the span of one film since Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. It is not just a case of a shave and a new wardrobe, Mikuni skilfully reinvents Inukai, convincing us the old him is gone but leaving room to suggest he is still there. Just two years after her majestic turn in The Insect Woman, Sachiko Hidari delivers another delightful and charming performance as Yae, the emotional centre of the film and despite her vocation choices, its purity.

Standing tall alongside the likes of Seven Samurai, The Human Condition, and Tokyo Story, Uchida’s A Fugitive From The Past is a monumental work showing a filmmaker at the height of his powers. Exemplifying the magic created by a peerless synchronicity of writing, acting, cinematography, and compulsive storytelling, all the reasons Japanese cinema is so revered can be found inside these three hours. This is one film nobody should be running away from.

 

Extras:

Original Uncompressed Japanese Mono Audio

English Subtitles

Introduction by Jasper Sharp

Scene Specific Commentaries

Theatrical Trailer

Tomu Uchida Filmography

Image Gallery

Reversible Sleeve

First Pressing Only:

Illustrated Collector’s Booklet

 

Rating – **** ½

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