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Film Review: A Fugitive From The Past (Japan, 1965) - 影評《飢餓海峽》Historical Meaning of 'Hunger Strait'

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

#FilmReview #AFugitiveFromThePast #影評 #飢餓海峽 #1965 #JapaneseCinema

FILE PHOTO: A Poster of A Fugitive from the Past (Japan, 1965)  ©TOEI
FILE PHOTO: A Poster of A Fugitive from the Past (Japan, 1965) ©TOEI


''Any kind of social discrimination is to justify inequalities in class societies.''

A genuine masterpiece of film has its place in the entire historical context as a certain ideological reflection and consciousness of the ruling class at the time of production. This ensemble suspense thriller film A Fugitive from the Past (Japan, 1965)'s historical meaning in the general context of Japanese society was never precisely pointed out by anyone until today due to its class sensitivity.

That is all about Japan's feudal caste, discrimination of Burakumin (originated in destitute peasants who abandoned their own agricultural fields as camp followers of feudal lords in "Age of Warring States'' during 1467 to 1615; ''Mura'' village people who are socially discriminated and demonised as 'dirt' because of their jobs like executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers, prostitutors or tanners and it's even rooted in ancestors/ethnicities, criminal records, religions etc.; a.k.a. ''Senmin'' which means hamlet / village people with "defilement" in Japanese; the opposite side, ''Heimin'' means ordinary citizens; another term for the discrimination is ''Hinin'' which mainly means beggars who are categorised as equilibrium with ''Senmin''; there is also a term ''Sanka'' which means non-agricultural drifters who lived in mountains and supposedly integrated into Burakumin) which is one of serious and centuries-long class discrimination in contemporary Japan.

It's exactly similar to racial and class discrimination by white supremacists against both Africans who taunted from ancestors' slavery-background and native Indians whose ancestors were butchered or ousted from native soil in US by white colonialists. This is the untold history of the ''promised land'' United States of America.

It's inevitable that class discrimination includes exclusion of targeted minorities from civilian rights, social access to basic necessities, and ethnic discrimination. The theory of evil human nature was discriminately applied on those poor village people in the class society for centuries. A Fugitive from the Past (Japan, 1965) reflects the class bias among characters especially ''antagonistic'' detectives who don't willingly understand the issue.

FILE PHOTO: In the End of ACT2, Higashi-Maizuru police target Kyōichirō Tarumi (Rentarō Mikuni) ©TOEI

For instance, the second investigative unit under supervision of Higashi-Maizuru police chief Toshikichi Ogimura (played by Susumu Fujita), detective Iwata (Sadao Yagi) concludes his investigation on family registration of the protagonist Takichi Inugai aka Kyōichirō Tarumi (Rentarō Mikuni) as if extreme poverty of his birthplace made him an evil man who has no conscious of guilty of crime. This is apparently biased but Dir. Tomu Uchida had retired-detective Kichitarou Yumisaka (Jyunzaburou Ban) to point out that it can only be understandable for people who actually experienced extreme poverty.

The protagonist's birthplace is set to be typical ''Mura'', ''Buraku'' in rural Kyoto without the use of the specific term in this film overtly. Another protagonist, a prostitute from Shimokita, Aomori prefecture, Yae Sugito (Sachiko Hidari) is also born in ''Mura''. There were several ''Buraku'' of Ainu in Shimokita Peninsula, Aomori prefecture in real history.

FILE PHOTO: In the ACT1, in-depth Mise-en-scène, the protagonists Yae (L) and Inugai (R).   ©TOEI
FILE PHOTO: In the ACT1, in-depth Mise-en-scène, the protagonists Yae (L) and Inugai (R). ©TOEI

Inugai and Yae have apparent features of ''Burakumin'' in this film. Furthermore, Hokkaido was not immune to ''Buraku'' discrimination (political epidemic) because Matsumae-han - Tokugawa Japan's northwest domain, a clan-ruled area in Matsumae, Ezo (present Hokkaido) - systematically imported ''Burakumin''. Therefore, Hokkaido is not excluded from this nationwide class discrimination.

Any Alfred Hitchcock's (1899-1980) ''master of suspense'' studio films have no in depth social consciousness and meticulous sensitivity like this one. This film is psychologically and historically deeply rooted in Japan's ''Mura'' society in its content.

This film just only refers Buraku as ''village'' (Mura in Japanese) due to its sensitive nature as a taboo (after the capitalist-feudalist reform of Japan, Meiji Restoration in 1868, Meiji government issued the decree which called Edict Abolishing Ignoble Classes in 1871, the official narrative of Japanese government is that there have been no longer any ignoble classes existed since then in Japan).

Unfortunately the social discrimination itself just has continued because originally labelled poor village classes got excluded from the integral society under the guise of ''assimilation''(Douwa in Japanese) policy in the post Meiji era. The hidden background is that the real opposite of ''Senmin'' or ''Hinin'' is royal family ''Kouzoku'' (Emperor's family) who are depicted as if born with supernatural nobility in terms of mythical metaphysical thought of class society deeply rooted in feudalistic tradition of Japan, therefore feudalistic class caste was not completely abolished in reality even under post war capitalism.

FILE PHOTO: Takichi Inugai aka Kyōichirō Tarumi (Rentarō Mikuni) in the end of ACT2. ©TOEI
FILE PHOTO: Takichi Inugai aka Kyōichirō Tarumi (Rentarō Mikuni) in the end of ACT2. ©TOEI

The presence of both royal family and Burakumin is a proof of it. Furthermore Japanese family registration is fixed in ancestral home address (Koseki / Honseki in Japanese) thus it made easy for people to deduce the Burakumin membership. The protagonist of A Fugitive from the Past (Japan, 1965), Takichi Inugai aka Kyōichirō Tarumi played by the most talented Japanese actor Rentarō Mikuni (1923-2013) who was really originated in Buraku thus he was a real class hero. This is why Dir. Tomu Uchida (1898-1970) recommended him to be the only proper cast candidate for the protagonist in the whole film industry. This film is all about Japanese class discrimination against Burakumin thus it is not simply a technical detective thriller of a Western dualist kind.

Audience without ''Buraku'' knowledge maybe hardly understand why Yae Sugito played by Sachiko Hidari (1930-2001) wails when she gets hired by the owner of the whorehouse in Kameido, Tokyo, Shinichi Motojima (played by Kouji Mitsui). The main reason is ''village'' people are more severely excluded from decent employment systematically than other working class people. For instance, the book "A Comprehensive List of Buraku Area Names" which circulated throughout Japan to prevent Buraku-related people from employment at major companies was fortunately exposed by the radical Buraku Liberation League (abbreviation: B.L.L.) in 1975.

As everybody knows, the present Japanese political system is constitutional monarchy which based on trans-constitutional presence of U.S.F.J. - a continuation of US occupational forces under U.S.–Japan Status of Forces Agreement - and still run by descendants of ex-A Class war criminals and monopoly capitalist syndicates who released and restored by G.H.Q. in 1947 as a result of the anti-democratic Reverse Course in Cold War.

In 1950s, Burakumin (human) rights movement, a kind of Burakumin liberation movement got social momentum that the major pressure group Buraku Liberation League was established and had pressured the Japanese government to make important concessions during 1960s and 1970s. This film is not a propaganda for any of the sides but it is only meant to be a reflection of social sins of that era and made out of the historical stage of development of Burakumin (human) rights movement. A Fugitive from the Past (Japan, 1965)'s story is taken place from 1947 to 1957.

It is not only just a kind of class and racial apartheid but also it is based on living address. In fact, it is a combination of varieties of social discrimination within Japanese traditional societies almost throughout all over the Japanese territories (some may say it doesn't exist in Hokkaido, Tohoku region and Okinawa but there are another and similar kinds of ''Buraku''antagonism on Ainu people in Hokkaido, and ''Military Base'' discrimination ''Okinawa-sabetsu'' against Ryukyu people in Okinawa). Moreover Buraku-discrimination is inevitably nationwide due to demographic transitions and moves of fluid population around entire Japan.

One of typical shortcoming of film schools and filmmakers is that they abstract a work of art out of general context of capitalist economy. In other words, abstracts of art works don't exist within the capitalist society. What blind ''filmmakers'' must realise is that film as a commodity, its use value is none for capitalists. Its fictionality is nothing in terms of commodity exchange at market. That is just like any other commodities only abstractly mean ''exchange value'' - the only measure is socially necessary labour time for production of the commodity with social average of productivity for the production of the commodity - for capitalists in market economy and in general.

Namely, fictional reality is just fiction. A style of realism in fiction is also no greater than fiction in its nature. On the contrary, ''reality'' only exists in social actions. Film itself can't solve any social issues in reality. The solution must be found from outside of the command chain of commodity production. What film can do as a use value is to bring facts, viewpoints (''angles''), social issues into audiences' consciousness to trigger proper reactions to it in terms of journalism. Film also has pornographic function to comfort audiences' inner desire in terms of psychology. Both major social functions of film and film-related media are fully exploited by capitalists for their agendas.



Exposition: In September 1947, a strong typhoon (taifu #10) hits Hokkaido and topples a ship ''Seikan-renrakusen, Souunmaru'' which takes its route between Aomori prefecture and Hakodate, Hokkaido caused numerous casualties. Two ex-prisoners - Hachirou Numata (played by Itsuma Mogami) and Tadakichi Kijima (Mitsuo Ando)- who recently released from Abashiri prison commit a ''typhoon'' heist at a pawn shop in Iwanai town, and they also commit an arson in order to hide the crime. The arson at the pawn house further burns down the entire town. The two criminals try to escape from Hokkaido to mainland Japan with their innocent accompany Takichi Inugai aka Kyōichirō Tarumi (Rentarō Mikuni) who is originated in Buraku in Kyoto and repatriated from mainland China after the war.

Inciting Incident: Kijima kills Numata, and also tries murdering Inugai while the three disguised as a rescue team to go through the middle of the rescue operation by Hakodate authorities. Inugai is forced to do self-defence and necessarily kills Kijima and unethically takes money that the two robbed from the pawn house. Inugai decides burying everything about the two criminals and his own crime, misappropriation of the stolen money. Innugai successfully lands on Shimokita, Aomori prefecture by the boat, keeps wandering in mainland. Meanwhile, Hakodate police detective finds two mysterious corps during investigative process of collecting the deceased on the ship incident. Later identity of the two mysterious bodies suspected as Kijima and Numata by Iwanai police station report. Chief detective of Hakodate police Kichitarou Yumisaka (Jyunzaburou Ban) decides going to Shimokita, Aomori prefecture to search for the big guy Inugai who among the two criminals witnessed by a fisherman during the typhoon tragedy.

FILE PHOTO: Beginning of the tragedy, the protagonists Yae (L) and Inugai (R).   ©TOEI
FILE PHOTO: Beginning of the tragedy, the protagonists Yae (L) and Inugai (R). ©TOEI

End of Act 1: Inugai accidentally meets a geisha, Yae Sugito (Sachiko Hidari) who just attended her deceased mother's second anniversary at the ''Mount Osore'' and returning to workplace by a mountain train to urban town of Shimokita, Oominato. Inugai and Yae develops a mutual relationship during the short journey, then he visits Yae as a guest before taking a train to leave there. Inugai gets more sympathetic on Yae's poverty status and leaves her spectacular amount of money to clear the debts of her family, then mysteriously disappears from her sight. In return, for personal obligation, Yae decides moving to Tokyo to thank him with his nail which trimmed by herself during the service along with the newspaper which Inugai put the money into it to handover to Yae in that room. Yumisaka comes and inquires Yae about ''big guy'' at Yunokawa spring but Yae lies about him in order to protect the benefactor Inugai. Then Yae leaves her father to go to Tokyo alone. After returning from Oominato, Yumisaka confirms the identity of the two corps as Kijima and Numata from images he received from HQ. His men can't find any suspect in entire Oominato town, thus it urges him to become highly suspicious about Yae's testimony which is an only testimony about ''big guy'' in Oominato. There is no hint, Yumisaka decides to go after Yae to find Inugai according to his instinct.


FILE PHOTO:  Yae's major action in the entire film is to thank Inugai for saving her family.   ©TOEI
FILE PHOTO: Yae's major action in the entire film is to thank Inugai for saving her family. ©TOEI

Complication: Yae's first job at bar in "Red-light District"(Akasen-chitai) in Tokyo ends up in a police mass arrest campaign on a territorial dispute among yakuza after she runs way from Yumisaka who waiting for her arrival at her friend Tokiko Kazuraki (Yuriko Anjo)'s house. Yumisaka fails to catch up with her and his time running out, then he leaves Tokyo. Then, Yae loses her job and is driven by compulsion to sell her labour power to the next employer. She has no any choice but only job she knows is to be a prostitute which she has wanted to avoid most since she met Inugai. Finally Yae gets hired by Shinichi Motojima (Koji Mitsui) who runs a brothel (whorehouse) at Kameido, Tokyo. Yae spends ten years out there.

Midpoint: Ten years later, summer in 1957. Motojima suddenly announces upcoming closure of their business in front of his employees including Yae due to the governmental order. She finds an image of a man who resembles Inugai on the newspaper article about Kyoichiro Tarumi who is an owner of Tarumi Food and an award winning donator for significant improvement of prisoners. Yae becomes confident that Tarumi is Inugai. She decides going to Maizuru, Kyoto to visit Tarumi personally to confirm the man is actually Inugai himself in order to thank him for the enormous contribution to her and her family's lives.

FILE PHOTO:  At the End of ACT2, Inugai (L) silences Yae (R).   ©TOEI