Wednesday, March 30, 2022

黒い河 - Black River aka Kuroi kawa (1957) Japanese Noir

Wow! a nice surprise. (thanks to Isamu Inoue for putting me onto this)

Directed Masaki Kobayashi. Written by Zenzô Matsuyama and based on a Takeo Tomishima story. Cinematography by Yûharu Atsuta,  Music by Chûji Kinoshita

Stars Ineko Arima as Shizuko, Fumio Watanabe as Nishida, Tatsuya Nakadai as Joe, Asao Sano as Sakazaki, Tomo Nagai as Okada, Keiko Awaji as Yasuko, Seiji Miyaguchi as Kin, Isuzu Yamada as Landlady, Eijirō Tōno as Kurihara, Yōko Katsuragi as Sachiko, Masao Shimizu as Kuroki, Eiko Miyoshi as Procuress, Natsuko Kahara as Toyo Takahashi.

Ineko Arima as Shizuko

Fumio Watanabe as Nishida

Tatsuya Nakadai as Joe

An impressive title sequence is accompanied by a nice Crime Jazz piece.

Title Sequence

A US navy jet fighter in the sky cuts across the false fronts of shanty town clustered around the entrance roadway that looks like something out of a Spaghetti Western. 

Shanty Town

Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, with its symbiotic boomtown attached to the main entrance gate, circa 1956. The base was bombed and rebuilt at the end of WWII and taken over by the US Navy. The place is jumping. Its a Japanese Phenix City Story but about the lowlifes rather than the crusaders.  

The place is a cluster of bars The Paradise, Monterey, Welcome, Rose, Cocktail, Wonderland, The Yuki, The Black Cat, Ron's, Club 7, The Silver, Ace Bar, Angel Bar, Brandy Bar, Star Beer Hall, Spider Club, pawn shops, tailors, engravers, laundries, residential apartment shacks, arcades, a Fuji View Hotel, various whorehouses, whose clotheslines are festooned with woman's lingerie and strung with nylon stockings, and a Pizzeria. 

Into this walks Shizuko a cute young student from a Tokyo university. She is working as a waitress in town to help pay her tuition. She carries a white parasol and pocketbook. She is on her way to the station to catch a train to class.

She is noticed. Killer Joe, a pimp known as Brother to his gang, to his business partner network and to his parasitic hangers on, has developed the hots for her. He watchers her from the balcony of a barber shop as she passes by towards the station.

Shizuko while climbing the stair to the platform meets another student Nishida. He asks her for directions to the flop house apartment and a room that he wants to rent. She turns and points him on his way.

So Nishida gets to the Landlady's house. She gives him the spiel about paying his rent on time, etc., etc. Then she takes him into boomtown to show him the place and to collect the rents while she's there. Nishida takes the room. He goes to get his possessions and on the way back again meets Shizuko.

Nishida goes to get his possessions and his books and on the way back he again meets Shizuko. He is dropping books from his hand cart as he rolls it towards the flop house.

Shizuko follows picking up what he drops.

So Nishida moves in and meets the various eccentrics who live at the flop. The standouts are Yasuko a beautician who moonlights as a prostitute, her polite, timid, and clueless husband Okada also, Kin who is an organizer and the head of the tenants organization. 

Keiko Awaji as Yasuko

Tomo Nagai as Okada

Mr. Kin (Seiji Miyaguchi) center

Eijirō Tōno as Kurihara

Isuzu Yamada as Landlady

As things settle in, Nishida and Shizuko are slowly falling in love with each other, but then Killer Joe puts his plan into action. 

So the story revolves around the Shizuko - Nishida - Killer Joe relationship.

Kill Joe's plan is to to have his gang grab Shizuko, cover her head so she cannot see tie her hands and legs together and adduct her to a prearranged spot. They are to fondle her a bit and tell her that they are going to gang rape her. When they reach the prearranged location, Killer Joe will be there to save the day. 

So while Shizuko was walking along with her parasol and white purse, a jeep slowly pulls up just past her. One guy who already jumped out of the vehicle immediately covers her head and grabs her arms, the rest tie her up and put her in the jeep with them. They drive to a semi secluded spot by some ponds where they pull her out of the jeep and drag her to the grass. 

Killer Joe begins to faux fight with them. Shizuko thinks it's real from what she can hear. Killer Joe finally beats the off and they drive away. He unties Shizuko, she thanks him tells him that she is grateful. Joe tells Shizuko that he has been infatuated with her since he first saw her. He tells her that he can't control himself and that he must have her. They struggle in the grass he wins. 

Joe tells Shizuko that he has been infatuated with her since he first saw her. He tells her that he can't control himself and that he must have her. They struggle in the grass he wins. 

The next day Shizuko visits Killer Joe and demands that he marry her. Joe laughs in her face. He tells her that if she wants to move in a cook for him she can do it right now and the she doesn't need a piece of paper to do it. 

It turns a bit kinky because sadistic Joe, ignited a masochistic desire in Shizuko that she didn't realize she had, so even though she is disgusted and repelled by Joe, she does what he tells her to do and she feels trapped in their relationship. It's partly because it turns her on and partly because she loves Nishida and doesn't want anything to happen to him. 

Killer Joe slapping Shizuko

So while this love triangle is going on the Landlady, a corrupt city official, and Joe with his gang are pulling strings, stealing or forging signature stamps, and conning or bribing the residents of the flop to sign papers giving the OK to demolish the place to make way for a new "love" hotel. 

It all goes Noirsville when Shizoko is shown her own parasol and the pocketbook that she lost when she was abducted and told by Joe that he arranged it all.


This is an entertaining  Japanese Noir. Kobayashi does a good job of intertwining all the various characters yet still keeps the focus on the love triangle. Bravo 8/10