Sorry, Wrong Number [1948] – A Classic Claustrophobic Suspense Flick

Anatole Litvak’s taut noir drama, ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ (1948) is an adaptation of Lucille Fletcher’s 22-minute radio play. The script for the film was written by the original author, embellishing the narrative with typical elements of film noir – moral corruption, low-key lighting, bleakness, paranoia, and desperation. Producer Hal Wallis (Casablanca) was hell-bent on finding a popular star for the main role and got the queen of film-noir: Barbara Stanwyck. The then growing Hollywood star Burt Lancaster (his 6th role) played opposite Stanwyck. The two stars' on-set conflicts didn’t eventually affect the movie, although they never worked together again. For Ukrainian-born American film-maker Mr. Litvak, the year 1948 turned out to be very successful year in his career. While ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’ turned out to be huge box-office success, Litvak’s harrowing drama ‘The SnakePit’ released in the same year to huge critical acclaim and gained seven Oscar nominations.

In contemporary times, when we think of bleaker facets of technology, we might picturize our over-dependent online habits. This film, however, is set in 1940s and the opening crawl forewarns about a communication device that could instill the sense of doom. This is the post-war era where telephone communications made it easy to reach out to the loved ones. And, for Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck), a wealthy yet lonely New York heiress whose illness confines her to the bedroom, the telephone is her only connection to the outside world. She repeatedly tries to contact her husband at his office who is running late. Leona only gets a busy signal. Just when she thinks that the call is connected, Leona finds herself listening to someone else’s phone call. The two men talk about killing a woman, somewhere in the city that same night.

Leona immediately panics and asks the phone operator to connect her to the police. The lone policeman on work ignores Leona’s report of a planned murder. Later, she receives a call from her millionaire father (Ed Begley), who questions whether the husband Mr. Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster) is there to take care of her. Desperate to talk with Henry, Leona calls her husband’s secretary, who tells her about a mysterious, good-looking woman meeting with Henry at the office. This leads to more phone calls, and each unfurls a flashback that gradually crystallizes the mystery behind Henry’s absence. Leona’s dread escalates further when she realizes that she could be the target of the men, whom she had heard earlier.

From the 1979 slasher/thriller When a Stranger Calls to the opening scene in Scream (1996) and the terrorizer in Phone Booth (2002), the idea of an unknown individual bringing doom through a simple phone call could bring forth palpable fear in the yesteryear cinema. With the emergence of smart phones, the role of communication devices in constructing cinematic villains has only proliferated. In Mr. Litvak’s movie the pristine, old telephone is pretty much the symbol of his heroine’s sense of entrapment.

 It is easy to comprehend why this brief radio play that unfolded in the form of monologue was a huge success. The voice which filtered through the radio instantly forged the connection with listeners, keeping the narration devoid of unnecessary fillers. As for a movie narrative, the central character Leona couldn’t be treated as the only point-of-connection to viewers. Hence, director Litvak punctuates the plot with more conflicts and betrayals, and pushes it to feature-length with extensive flashbacks. Some of the plot complications bring deep suspense to the proceedings, while some twists are purely an excess.

The brilliant aspect of Litvak’s direction is his study of space. The camera itself often behaves like a free entity breaking away from characters, taking in the details of their domestic space. Camera movement inside Leona’s mansion often emphasizes her insecure feelings and restlessness, whereas the other fluid camera movements accounting the space, encompassing the supporting characters, delivers the sense of who they are. Cinematographer Sol Polito (The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Petrified Forest) and Mr. Litvak do a thorough job in manifesting fatalistic alarm and tension through the use of autonomous camera. The wonderful crane shot towards the end which descends down from Leona’s bedroom (her aural presence is maintained) actively infuses sense of unease, something which is comparable to the snazzy visual flourishes of Alfred Hitchcock.

Despite the overly complicated plot conventions and improbable coincidences, Sorry, Wrong Number (88 minutes) is a slick film noir drama benefited by director Anatole Litvak’s supreme style and Barbara Stanwyck’s grand performance. 

Reversal of Fortune [1990] – A Taut Drama with Questions about Legality and Morality

What do you give a wife that has everything? A shot of insulin

Swiss film-maker Barbet Schroeder’s movie career is going strong even after five decades. Born (26 August 1941) to a Swiss Geologist dad in Tehran, Mr. Schroeder has traveled around the world before opting to study philosophy in Paris. Soon, he was enamored by French New Wave that he became a writer for Cahiers du Cinema. In 1962, when he was 21, Schroeder started the production company Les Films du Losange with visionary film-maker Eric Rohmer. He also had the chance to work with other pioneers of French New Wave during this earlier phase. In 1969, Barbet Schroeder made his directorial debut with More, a drama about young man’s downward spiral through heroin and LSD. Although Mr. Schroeder didn’t direct a work which ranks alongside the works of French New Wave contemporaries, he found his true voice by transforming himself into a perceptive documentarian. His controversial documentary and first one in the ‘Trilogy of Evil’ General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait (1975) was an oddly engaging take on the psychopathic Ugandan dictator.

The other two documentaries in the unofficial trilogy were The Terror’s Advocate (2007) and The Venerable W (2017). The director was perhaps best known for conducting extended interview with American novelist/poet Charles Bukowski, presented as The Charles Bukowski Tapes (1987). In the late 1980s, Barbet Schroeder directed his first American feature film with Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway playing the leads. The film titled Barfly was about an indigent, alcoholic writer Henry Chinaski, a character inspired by Charles Bukowski. In the 1990s, Mr. Schroeder mastered the patience to work within Hollywood industry, directing some average thrillers like Single White Female (1992), Kiss of Death (1995), etc. 

Apart from Barfly (1987), the director indeed made one truly good American film in 1990 titled Reversal of Fortune which bestowed Jeremy Irons with Best Actor Oscar. Since Schroeder always had a penchant for scrutinizing evil, odd or outcast characters, he must have relished at the chance to work with the film’s bizarre and ambiguous protagonist Charles Von Bulow. Although Barbet Schroeder’s film career was thought to be finished in the late 1990s, he found his way back to form with feature films like Our Lady of the Assassins and Amnesia.

Reversal of Fortune is based on law professor Alan Dershowitz’s published account of the infamous and bizarre case of Claus Von Bulow, a European aristocrat accused of attempting to murder his wealthy wife Sunny Von Bulow. In the initial trial that took place in 1981, Claus was found guilty of putting his wife Sunny into coma and sentenced to 30 years. By the end of the trial, Claus became the most hated person in America. But for an intriguing constitutional reason, Professor Alan agrees to take the appeals case. 

The chunk of the narrative doesn’t take place inside a courtroom, but during the days before when Alan and his energetic students/assistants carefully built the appeals case which eventually reversed Charles’ conviction. As for the question whether Charles was really guilty or not (irrespective of judicial verdict), Alan Dershowitz and director Barbet Schroeder asks us to make up our own mind. What makes Reversal of Fortune a great drama/thriller is the stylistic direction and insightful writing (script by Nicolas Kazan) which eschews by-the-numbers approach to get deep into the characters’ emotions and psyche. It’s pervaded with moral ambiguities and makes a valid commentary on the human nature rather than just turn us into voyeurs or armchair detectives.

Reversal of Fortune unfolds from trio of viewpoints. The film opens with the most chilling and deeply objective viewpoint of Sunny Von Bulow (Glenn Close) who voices her predicament from comatose state (Sunny died in 2008 after spending the last 28 years of her life in coma). It’s an approach familiarized by movies like Sunset Blvd, American Beauty, etc and books like My Name is Red, The Lovely Bones. The icy blue color palette and the floating camera work in the scenes delineating Sunny lend wonderful visual weight to her contemplation from the nether world.  

Sunny narrates what set off the chain of events that now keeps her in vegetative state. Her recollection is oddly detached, providing us only with the facts exhibited in the public trial. The other two viewpoints in the narrative include enigmatic Charles Von Bulow and Alan Derschowitz (Ron Silver), a famous libertarian. One look at Charles (Jeremy Irons) from the purely objective flashback is enough to convince our mind that he is guilty. He is unwittingly hilarious, peculiar, apathetic, and has annoyingly haughty demeanor. By injecting Sunny with insulin, Charles stood to gain $14 million after her death. As Alan’s spirited young student says, “Claus von Bulow stinks!”.

Nevertheless, the film isn’t about painting the characters with broad strokes to constrain them under categories of good and evil. As Alan and his team scrutinize the case and those involved, a lot of unsettling as well as fascinating truths rise to the surface. We are revealed the peculiarity of Von Bulow’s marriage, the complex underpinnings of their rich life, and Sunny’s predilection for laxatives, alcohol, sweets, etc. What’s further interesting is the way Kazan affixes us to observe the behind-the-screen happenings that’s necessary to build the defense. 

Unlike many sensational courtroom dramas, the film shows how these daunting cases are won before ever reaching into the court premises. Alan’s team consists of eclectic mix of youngsters (including Alan’s ex-lover & lawyer Sarah, played by Annabella Sciorra) who are fun-loving, easily outraged and also unrelentingly determined. And, director Schroeder elegantly moves between these different worlds or perspectives, keeping us in guessing mindset till the end and providing us the space to pick a side or just stay neutral.

Nicolas Kazan’s ingenious script is full of richly textured dialogues: “It’s hard to live with someone you love. Love is fantasy, living is work”; “Legally, this is an important victory. Morally you are on your own”. Schroeder’s direction perfectly compliments the script, upholding and celebrating the mystery till the end. Schroeder's handling of the actors is nothing short of exceptional. Despite clever writing and making, the film could have fallen flat if not for Jeremy Irons’ commanding performance. 

It’s a known thing that evil on-screen looks more fascinating than good. Irons’ Claus Von Bulow isn’t just designed as a evil incarnate, like say Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, but a morally ambiguous guy who is capable of cruelty, manipulation whenever it suits him. Yet we aren’t fully certain if his sociopathic tendencies really led him to commit the act. Without extracting feelings of uncertainty towards Claus, the film wouldn’t have been half interesting as it is. Irons also instill splendid sense of dark humor to the character (especially that epilogue scene was a nice wicked touch).

 Reversal of Fortune (112 minutes) is an absorbing investigative drama packed with powerhouse performances from Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, and Ron Silver. The staggering aspect of this study of a very dark soul lies in its moral complexity.  

Linda Linda Linda [2005] – A Typical Heart-Warming Tale Laced with Brilliantly Understated Observational Film-Making

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s charming, nostalgia-tinged offbeat dramas have a calming effect on me. His deadpan minimalism, the simple narrative largely free of manipulations, the relaxed mid to long shots, and the matter-of-factness in evoking the sense of time and place adds up to the enduring appeal of Yamashita’s works. His movies may not have the narrative economy and artistic precision of the greatest practitioners of such aforementioned tones, for e.g., Aki Kaurismaki, Takeshi Kitano or Jim Jarmusch. But Yamashita often brings his own refreshing idiosyncrasies and painstaking observations to turn a rather conventional story into a resonant drama.
While his first three films – Hazy Life, No One’s Ark, and Ramblers – featured slacker youth with not much of a plot, Yamashita’s later works explored the awkward teenage years built around a storyline of sorts.  Yamashita’s fourth directorial effort Linda Linda Linda (2005) was definitely his breakthrough film earning the commercial success that remained out of his reach. Recruited as a director-for-hire, Yamashita furnishes both the momentous and mundane events with an understated beauty. The script written by Kosuke Mukai & Wakako Miyashita won an award in the screenwriting competition which was brought to the director’s attention by producer Hiroyuki Negishi. Yamashita has reportedly made quite a few changes to the script.

Though the high school setting and all-female band reminded me of Shinobu Yaguchi’s highly entertaining Swing Girls (2004), Linda Linda Linda dodges the familiar beats of teens-preparing-for-talent-show narrative. While Swing Girls is riddled with belly-laugh inducing vignettes and a thunderous final musical performance, Yamashita’s movie isn't strictly preoccupied in moving towards the destination. We know the narrative is just about all-girls punk-rock quartet preparing for a high school talent show. And of course it culminates with an obligatory yet an intoxicating musical number. However, Yamashita almost displaces such limiting qualities of the familiar narrative with nuanced humor and tranquilizing framing devices – the stoic as well as playful countenance of its central four characters are often gracefully set against silent space.

Teen dramas effortlessly zeroing-in on expressions of bewilderment and awkwardness or documenting their simplest yet stressful trials of life, of course, is nothing new. But Yamashita does it in a shrewd, idiosyncratic manner. Moreover, he foregrounds the characters’ desire and quiet humility in a way that really transcends the constraints of the narrative. The girls in Linda Linda Linda and even the characters in the periphery might come across as sweet and innocent, and the only tense stand-off in the narrative isn’t elaborated. Yet there are quite a few suggestions of excruciating things going on behind the scenes which Yamashita leaves it up to the viewers to fill in the details (most particularly the meaning of a dream sequence).

The movie opens with drummer Kyoko (Aki Maeda) and bassist Nozomi (Shiori Sekine) alluding to an argument between key members of their band: keyboard player, Kei (Yu Kashii) and lead vocal Rinko (Takayo Mimura). The rift between these best high-school friends is whispered across the school corridors. It is said to have happened over replacing their injured lead guitarist, Moe Imamura (Shione Yukawa). Whatever the reasons, the band’s chance to perform at the school’s annual talent-show, which is just few days away, remains tentative. Kei raises up to the occasion and takes over the lead guitarist duties, whereas Nozomi stumbles on to a box of old cassettes and they decide to perform the 80’s hit ‘Linda Linda Linda’ by the Japanese punk-rock band The Blue Hearts.

When Rinko teasingly questions Kei about their lead vocal, she just a picks a girl walking through the school courtyard which happens to be Son (Doona Bae), a Korean exchange student with limited vocabulary of Japanese and clearly has no singing experience. Oh yes, we can easily visualize how it’s all gonna end. Nevertheless, the coming together of these four different individuals as they spend day and night in the school’s cloistered music room plus the gradual development of friendship between Son and the three girls are emphasized with a gentle humor and unforgettable tenderness. Though the Korean actor Doona Bae was in her mid-20s when she played this character, her lean frame and sleepy eyes allow her to effectively integrate the adolescent clumsiness. She is definitely the scene-stealer of the four and most importantly the narrative doesn’t make jokes over her ‘foreigner’ status.

Being such a mature performer Doona Bae brings a graceful note to Son’s misunderstandings and mistakes so that we only laugh with the character, and never on her. It was absolutely hilarious to watch Son negotiating her way into the karaoke club with buying any drinks. Yu Kashii, who plays Kei, is equally good. Her stoic face and vacant stares subtly expresses the pains of growing up, especially Kei’s increasing estrangement from close friend Rinko. Furthermore, the interaction between the four girls though offers nothing revelatory, the mingling of each of their individual temperament is a joy to behold.

Eventually, the traces of superficiality in the narrative are wiped off in Yamashita’s lengthy, brooding unbroken shots. Be it the girls walking in line carrying their musical instruments or Son and Kei expressing their freshly forged bond in their own respective languages in the washroom mirror or the moment when Son walks to the stage, the day before the show, with a mix of fear, zeal, and delight, Yamashita and his flawless actors pushes us to live in the moment alongside the characters. There are eventful teen dramas that might come across as sluggish, and there’s Yamashita’s film which underlines the resplendence of simple warm-hearted human interactions – the style the director has followed in his subsequent subtle dramadies, A Gentle Breeze in the Village (2007), The Drudgery Train (2012), and Over the Fence (2016).

Linda Linda!! Linda Linda Linda!!!


The Big Clock [1948] – A Suspenseful Newsroom Noir

John Farrow’s The Big Clock (1948) is the movie equivalent of a delightfully tense page-turner. Based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel and adapted by Jonathan Latimer, it’s one of the minor classic of film-noir (although it crosses into light-hearted comedy territory now and then). The movie opens with the camera panned over the city’s dark skyline, few windows basking under lights. The camera slowly zooms in on the Janoth Building, entering one of its lower floors’ unlighted windows and captures a man moving in the shadows of the labyrinthine building. The man is George Stroud (Ray Milland), wearing an expensive buisiness suit but his face shows unrest and mortal fear. 

He enters into the most complex structure within the building: a gigantic mechanical clock whose inner bowels are decorated with spiraling iron stairs, dials, gauges, and a control board. Through the window slats of clock tower, the man frustratingly looks at the guards prowling on the corridors and begins to address viewers, like every cornered film-noir hero: “How did I get into this rat race anyway? Just thirty-six hours ago I was down there, crossing that lobby on my way to work. A guy with a good job, a wife, and a kid. A respected member of the community.” Yes indeed, how did George Stroud get into this position?

In the flashback, George is a lively, gregarious person with an extremely clever investigative mind which makes him perfect for the editor position of Crimeways magazine, its office situated on the top floor of Janoth Publications. Early in the narrative, we see George Stroud getting into the elevator at ground floor and we get a swift look at the other facets of the building: Newsways, Sportways, Styleways, etc. The buildings and its employess are tyrannically ruled by beady-eyed fascist, sporting a Hitler-like moustache, named Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton). 

Mr. Janoth himself micromanages every action within the structure (down to the light bulb forgotten to be switched off in the broom closet, asking to ‘dock the pay’ of one responsible) and his personal will fully dominates the lives of his employees. By the end of the day, George will be taking his long-deffered vacation with wife Georgette (Maureen O’ Sullivan) and his little son. Since George is on the cusp of cracking a sensational case, Janoth denies holiday at the last minute, jeopardizing George’s already fractured relationship with Georgette.

Miffed, George expresses his rage for Janoth to a colleague. He laments that he should have never given-up the low-paying job at small-town newspaper in West Virginia. Janoth’s forced attempt, however, doesn’t work because George quits his work and doesn’t care about Janoth ‘blacklisting’ his name in publication business. But in one of his favorite hang out bar, George meets a ‘beautiful blonde’ Pauline York (Rita Johnson) whose nemesis happens to be Janoth and only recently she was his mistress.

Time flies and later when George phones home, after nearly missing the train, the maid says his wife and kid have left without him. Annoyed by this, George visits different bars with Pauline and gets drunk. He ends up in Pauline’s apartment (of course fully clothed) and is waked up when Janoth pays an unannounced visit. She sneaks out George, but somehow Janoth catches the silhoutte of a man running down the stairs. Inside Pauline’s apartment, raging doubt mixed with in-built malice makes Janoth do an irreparable act, one that puts George’s future under threat.

The weird and exciting plot-twist in The Big Clock is George Stroud getting assigned to find the mysterious man (actually himself) by Janoth and his executive Steve Hagen, played George Macready (to frame the man for crime committed by Janoth). Taking over this forced self-investigation, George assigns his crew of investigative reporters to track the man and the blonde’s movement through the city last night. The ensuing investigation is part-hilarious and part-suspenseful as they uncaringly dissect one man’s emotional nature and his life’s unsavory parts. George, known as the keenest observer of human temperaments and actions, now faces his own choice of tool used against him. It’s interesting because until now George has remained blind to his own impulses. 

Of course, The Big Clock isn’t a character study but a thriller which elegantly milks the ‘mistaken identity’ factor to create sumptuous cat-and-mouse pursuits. The script also makes good use of little acting bits, providing uproarious comic relief. Elsa Lancester (The Bride of Frankenstein) is particularly funny as the dotty painting artist (one among the many who could identify the ‘man’ accompanying the blonde). The visit to her house, overflowing with children and unsold art, and later her visit to Janoth building provides joyful relief. Unlike many boringly good-hearted wives of film-noir, Maureen O’ Sullivan as Georgette remains rightfully furious has something pivotal to do (in assisting her husband to prove his innocence).

John Farrow’s direction expertly transforms George Stroud’s glitzy work place into a nightmare, visualizing it as a maze where he plays hunter to dispel his hunted status. The unerring clock is obviously used as a symbol to denote the tyranny of Janoth. After evading his chasers, hailing from all the corners of the building, George finally gets into the clock, the very nerve center of Janoth’s empire, and accidentally stops the clock’s movement for a moment. Janoth is panicked by the clock’s halt, muttering ‘It can’t have stopped’. It makes him contemplate his own possible downfall. Farrow also neatly packages the ending, diffusing a sense of poetic justice (by making the ‘fall’ literal). The performances are marvelous all around, spearheaded by Laughton’s suave villainous turn. 

Altogether, The Big Clock (95 minutes) is a solid crime thriller of yesteryear with an impressive splash of humor (the film was remade in 1987 by Roger Donaldson as ‘No Way Out’ with a political backdrop). 

Pitfall [1962] – An Inventive, Allegorical Cross-Genre Cinema

Pitfall (‘Otoshiana’, 1962) marks the first of the four intriguing collaborations between director Hiroshi Teshigahara, novelist and playwright Kobo Abe (who adapted his own novels), and the renowned composer Toru Takemitsu. Kobo Abe’s profound existential stories overcame the difficulties faced by literary works that tries to don the film-form, thanks largely to Mr. Teshigahara’s magnificent ability to envision unique aesthetics for Abe’s metaphorical and emotional expressions, combined with Mr. Takemitsu’s dissonant and uncomfortable musical score. Although the partnership gained global acknowledgment only with the release of Woman in the Dunes (1964) and The Face of Another (1966), which became part of a ‘new wave’ in Japanese cinema, Pitfall contains all the visually daring elements and pointed social critique that were further elaborately addressed in those subsequent acclaimed works. The film starts as a social realist tale of a poor miner, but then employs elements of surrealism and absurdism to deliver an arresting allegory on the corrupted authority of post-war Japan. In fact, the director himself calls his unique aesthetic style as ‘documentary/fantasy’.

Pitfall opens at nighttime with a man (Hisashi Igawa), his little son (Kazuo Miyahara), and the man’s friend (Kanichi Omiya) escaping from a ramshackle camp-town. They address themselves as deserters and fear bounty hunters might be after them. As if confirming their fears, the boy sees a man dressed in white suit (Kunie Tanaka) observing them from a distance. The men, however, aren’t prisoners but just exploited miners, dreading the punishment of mining establishment. The miners do some odd jobs and are always on the move. In one mining town, the miner is advised to visit a nearby village for a job. With the help of a map, the miner and his son walk to the village, which they find to be deserted, except for a female shopkeeper living there. She sells candies and waits for the letter from her lover.

The miner realizes this was an abandoned mining camp, and wonders why he was asked to visit the place. Before long, the man in white suit follows the miner and starts stabbing him with a knife. The miner dies. The son come across his father’s corpse and reacts with an unfathomable indifference. Meanwhile, the man in the white suit approaches the shopkeeper to bestow her with cash, and to say to the police that the killer looked like a miner with a bald spot above his right ear. 

Amongst all these mysterious happenings, the miner himself arises; but only as a ghost, forever doomed to haunt the ghost town. Invisible to the living, the miner’s ghost witnesses the unfolding investigation with great frustration. The testimony of the shopkeeper misleads the investigation and throws suspicion on two rival union officials of a mining company. The mystery deepens and the threat of violence persists, although Teshigahara and Abe use the twists and bloodletting to reflect on existential concerns.

Woman in the Dunes was best known for director Teshigahara and cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa’s unique imagery of juxtaposing the landscape of shifting sand with the body and it’s self; such that in some of the fantastic shot compositions the naked body’s creases and folds resemble that of the dunes. The existential questions and themes of identity Abe deals in the novel finds a firm anchor in this particular form of visual representation that explores the relation between body, self, and the landscape (which naturally addresses the cultural and social concerns). 

In Pitfall, Segawa and Teshigahara seem to have first attempted those visual ideas (setting precedence) that worked more perfectly in Woman in the Dunes, supported by the novel’s stronger metaphorical structure. Since Pitfall’s story is a bit uneven compared to the other two heralded adaptations of Abe’s novels, the hypnotic black-and-white imagery easily overpowers the genre-splicing storytelling.

Unlike Woman in the Dunes, Pitfall fails a bit to strike the right balance between allegorical and psychological/emotional concerns. Hence the film works a lot on metaphorical level by theorizing on what the man in white suit represents or what the boy’s apathetic stance represent and so on. But except for the sad predicament of shopkeeper and the miner (which in itself is mixed with elements of absurdism), there’s not much emotional investment in the narrative. Nevertheless, there’s lot of arresting visuals here to lose ourselves and ponder over the abstract questions of existentialism. 

The visual motif of voyeurism recurs throughout the narrative: for instance, the extreme close-up of the shopkeeper’s sweaty body and the iconic shot of a boy peeking through a knothole. Another recurrent visual idea is nature’s indifference to human endeavors. While human actions advance towards a predestined fate that’s supposed to have some meaning, the nature is portrayed as an ominous presence devoid of meaning. I couldn’t clearly understand the meaning of the boy’s presence. He could represent the viewers’ distanced perspective, a voyeur like us witnessing the events with morbid curiosity.

Similar to Abe’s other works, Pitfall emphasizes both on the universal existential themes as well as on the Japanese sociopolitical and sociocultural realities of the time. Earlier, in the film Teshigahara infuses news clips and footage of real mining accidents to paint a grisly picture of the occupation. This along with the miner articulating his dream to work in a unionized, regulated mining industry addresses the increasing western corporate imperialism in Japanese industries, although officially those years were considered as the boom period in post-war industrial Japan.

Therefore, the film clearly deals with the pitfalls of rivalry and violence conceived by the new capitalistic system of Japan to perpetually keep the workers in conflict. At the same time, incapacitated spectral forms of the miner and shopkeeper represent the universal themes of ill-treatment of working class and the ruthlessness of hidden power (the three violent deaths of workers near the marshland also talks of an existential deadlock created by the authority). Finally, Toru Takemitsu’s creepily effective soundtrack merges well with Teshigahara’s experimentation with form and tone. 

Overall, Pitfall (97 minutes) plays with mystery and thriller genre elements to construct a distinctly visualized existential cinema.