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Fantoma Films presents
Afraid to Die (Karakkaze Yaro) (1960)

"In our world, the only thing that counts is who dies first."
- Uncle Asahina (uncredited)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 30, 2002

Stars: Yukio Mishinma, Ayako Wakao
Other Stars: Keizo Kawasaki, Eiji Funakoshi, Takashi Shimura, Yoshie Mizutani
Director: Yasuzo Masamura

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, torture)
Run Time: 01h:35m:45s
Release Date: April 02, 2002
UPC: 014381169027
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BC-C D+

DVD Review

Yukio Mishima is one of the notorious characters of the 20th century. Widely acclaimed as a brilliant novelist, he thought of himself as somewhat of a Superman. In the late 1960s, Mishima, at the head of a cadre of fascist homosexuals, sought to overthrow the Japanese government or at least to strike out against the Establishment. In despair over his inability to reach those goals, Mishima finally committed ritual seppuku, bringing to a close one of the oddest chapters in Japanese history. What I wasn't aware of was that he also had pretensions of being a movie star. As a Japanese cultural icon, he was ready-made box office, and thus this Yakuza vehicle was written for him and directed by New Wave director Yasuzo Masumura.

Gang leader Takeo Asahina (Mishima) is about to be released from jail for maiming the leader of the rival Sagara gang. However, he didn't actually kill the man, who now bears both a serious limp and a serious grudge. Sagara is intent on rubbing Takeo out of the picture, while he in turn is desperately intent on staying alive. Along the way there's an ex-girlfriend chanteuse, Masako (Yoshie Mizutani) as well as a new love interest, Yoshie Koizumi (Ayako Wakao). Not helping matters is the fact that the Asahina gang only consists of Takeo, his brother the lawyer (Eiji Funakoshi) and an aged uncle (uncredited). The plot is further complicated by stolen cancer drugs and a couple kidnapings, as well as the intervention of the Supreme Godfather of the Yakuza.

Although it's definitely a programmer, Afraid to Die has a fair amount of merit on its own. Brutal as a Sam Fuller picture, it's unrelenting in its rapid-fire pacing and drive, particularly in the pursuit of Takeo. There are also interesting little character bits, such as the asthmatic hitman after Takeo and the stubborn insistence of Yoshie to carry Takeo's child to term. Although the accompanying essay minimizes Mishima's acting talents, he comes across well enough and makes for a charismatic antihero. Most notable is that for much of the running time I was able to completely forget that he was Mishima, which strikes me as a successful performance.

The settings bear some comment. Starting off in a prison (where another prisoner is mistakenly executed by Sagara's hitmen) to sleazy dives to massage parlors to what appear to be a tin lean-to where Takeo hides out to recover from a gunshot, there's nothing visible but seamy underbelly here. These settings definitely establish the mood of a rundown Tokyo where nothing good can happen. It seem utterly claustrophic here, making other cities such as Osaka seem paradisaical by comparison.

The title can be taken a number of ways. Of course, there's Takeo himself, who exemplifies the sentiment, but there are others as well. Masako, the nightclub singer, feigns love for Takeo simply because she's afraid that he'll kill her. Yoshie's brother, kidnaped by the Yakuza, is a blubbering wreck. Even the bungling hitman who kills the wrong man in prison falls apart knowing that he's going to buy it himself. The uncle, dying of cancer, seems to be the only one in this doomed crew who is facing oblivion with a resignation and acceptance.

The execution of the picture ultimately brings it well above its B-movie origins. It's worth the price of a rental just to see the closing sequence, a bravura statement if there ever was one.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks decent, with good detail and color. Blacks are rather weak, more of a mild grey than a serious black. However, there is serious combing whenever there are bright colors, particularly red, onscreen. This produces a severe black-and-red fringing that I found highly distracting. The source print appears to be in good condition, with only a couple speckles that are problematic.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoJapaneseno


Audio Transfer Review: Dialogue has a decent punch for this original mono track. The swanky jazz score sounds a bit tinny, however, and one longs for a better reproduction of the music. Low bass information is almost entirely lacking.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The extras are not quite as substantial as one might hope. The "essay" mentioned on the back of the keepcase is a mere three-screen set of production notes that provides a little useful history regarding Mishima and Masumura's uneventful run-ins before making this film. Certainly there is more information available and this viewer would certainly like to know more about this collaboration in particular. A brief bio and filmography for director Masumura are included, as is the original Japanese trailer (with a spoiler for the ending) with removable English subtitles is about the extent of the rest.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

A snappy and brutal crime drama with a jazzy score featuring Japanese author Yukio Mishima in a starring role, given a dodgy transfer and scanty extras. Still worth a rental for the movie, though.

 


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