Matakichi Nakaike (Kô Nishimura) has all the reasons to be exacerbated: his old friend Kyōsuke Takita (Nobuo Kaneko) outranked him in the bank where they both work. This is not all. Takita disregarded his friend’s feelings by seducing the woman he loved — their boss’ daughter — and remorselessly dumped his then fiancé — Nakaike’s sister — to marry her to his own advantage. As a result, Takita is now being promoted to a prestigious position. Takita’s situation though is not as enviable as it looks: some thug is blackmailing him for book-cooking and he has just a few hours to gather 3 million yen before information about his illegal dealings is leaked to the police. Takita’s only hope to save his reputation is to find the money and the only way he can devise is to rob his own bank.
Koreyoshi Kurahara is mostly remembered for his Antarctica, a film that won him the attention of a vast foreign audience. But Kurahara is best known among film lovers for his gripping psychological thrillers, among which is Intimidation (ある脅迫). With its 65 minutes, Intimidation is one-of-a-kind Japanese film noir.
Intimidation is a character piece, revolving around the relationship between Takita and Nakaike. The two main characters represent the polar opposites of ordinary Japanese white collar stereotype: Takita, the hardworking and ambitious employee, well-liked by his superiors and colleagues; Nakaike, the dull and obsequious clerk, with no skill and perspectives. Even though their motives are different, Nakaike and Takita share a profound ambiguity that they carefully conceal under a reassuring public persona. Takita is depicted as a shameless social climber of the worst kind and Nakaike as a persistent little man whose life is drenched in constant acrimony. But the psychological situation in Intimidation goes far deeper than this and as the film explores the main characters and their motivations, we find out that even if according to social conventions Takita is the winner, it is in fact Nakaike that dictates the rules of the game. Particularly remarkable is the performance of Kô Nishimura as the servile and resentment-driven Nakaike. Nishimura’s acting is simple and intricate at the same time, with his Nakaike being a pretender himself within the story, plotting behind the scenes and showing only his humble, downtrodden face to colleagues and acquaintances. Nakaike the loser, with his mouth slightly agape and his piteous blank eyes, is a staple in Nishimura’s career: Nishimura was often cast as the unctuous, uncool character, but Nakaike probably remains one of his finest roles.
The bank robbery scenes definitely constitute the climax of Intimidation: both of them are breath-taking and memorable, although for very different reasons. In the first one, Takita dreams of robbing the bank before actually committing the crime. The sequence is mostly shot in the first person, with ellipsis and camera movements to simulate the inner sense of claustrophobia of the bank manager. The second, in which Takita hiding his face under a bandana points a gun at the apparently harmless and flabbergasted Nakaike, is almost completely silent and paced so perfectly that the spectator is truly led to experience an exasperating agitation as time seems to linger endlessly while actions like opening the safe and picking up the money scattered on the ground are carried out. The robbery sequences however are not only expedients to advance the plot, they are also a clever discourse about film-making itself: Kurahara offers a diegetically motivated demonstration of how the same material — robbing a bank — can be filmed using very distinct approaches to serve different purposes within the same story.
The photography and the camera work in Intimidation are some of the best in Japanese film noir, as is the attention to clues and details that are scattered all around. The obstinacy to show subtle changes in facial expressions or the concern to unveil the emotional side of the characters — trembling hands, copious perspiration, etc. — make Intimidation an expressive film, exemplary of Japanese mastery of genre.
The film is truly brilliant and engaging up to the second robbery scene. After that, the storytelling seems to lose focus and incisiveness; the attention shifts to somewhat superfluous dialogue and ludicrous plot devices. The deus ex-machina at the end really feels like thrown in and it leaves the impression in the viewer that part of the story is missing. Kurahara doesn’t have a lot of material to work on: he only really has a main storyline, even if it’s partially shown from two different perspectives, and a few prominent characters to handle. Even with such a concentrated scenario, event and character development are aborted at some point. The film feels more like an exercise in noir style — albeit witty and sophisticated — than an actual conclusive feature.
Directed by: Koreyoshi Kurahara
With: Kô Nishimura, Nobuo Kaneko, Jun Hamamura, Mari Shiraki