Pale Flower (1964)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Gangster Film  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Often described by critics as one of the greatest yakuza films ever made, Masahiro Shinoda's Pale Flower combines a stunning visual style with the sort of aesthetic fatalism that recalls his masterpiece Double Suicide (1969). Yet it almost did not get released. Screenwriter Ataru Baba decried the final work as a "nihilistic film" and tried to get it shelved. The ensuing dispute resulted in Shochiku Studios' delaying distribution for nine months. Indeed, much of the studio heads' consternation resulted from Pale Flower's being such a bold reworking of firmly entrenched clich├ęs of the yakuza genre. Though the protagonist is presented as an honorable warrior in a sea of intrigue and corruption, the film is imbued with an existential longing for the abyss. Murakami clearly recognizes that his final sacrifice for his clan is absurd but he goes through with it all the same. Set against the forbidding rationality of modern Yokohama, Shinoda's characters irrationally sacrifice themselves for beauty and aesthetic purity instead of more crass concerns like material gain. Stylistically, Shinoda subordinates plot for the film's murky, subterranean mood, aided by Masao Kosugi's sumptuous cinematography. During the opening scene at an illegal gambling parlor, Shinoda brilliantly sets up the dynamics between the film's various personalities with remarkable economy and little dialogue save the dealer's monotonous cant. Pale Flower is a bleak yet strikingly beautiful yakuza classic, made by one of the masters of the Japanese New Wave.