Death Shadow

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“Stylized beyond belief.”

deathshadowsWhile made in 1986, you’ll frequently find yourself thinking this could be from a decade or two earlier, though to be honest, the style in this samurai-revenge-crime-whatever film is as all over the place as the plot. Some of that works well. Having the heroine’s sword turn into a ribbon, which she then twirls artistically, is more successful than it sounds. However, the multiple breaks for little disco-dance sequences, involving dry ice and flashing lights… Not so much. The set-up is great. Three condemned men are recruited, Nikita-style, to become shadow agents, working for the government. One of them manages to have a wife and a daughter, but has to leave them for their own safety.

Ten years later, he’s working a case when he meets his daughter, Ocho (Ishihara) employed by the man he’s investigating, Denzo. The end results is, the case blowing up, the death of both he and Denzo, and Ocho’s recruitment by his boss as a replacement. She can avenge her father by getting the evidence that will bring down the whole syndicate, in particular, a fake license hidden in the sash of a kimono. Unfortunately, this sash is now evidence in a murder investigation, and is in the hands of the police. And Denzo’s mistress, Oren (Natsuki), is out for her own revenge, on the woman she blames for his death.

Plenty of scope here, certainly. Unfortunately, the potential is frittered away after that blistering first twenty minutes, becoming bogged down in a welter of male characters who tend to look the same, act the same and sound the same. It’s a constant stream of corruption, lies and deceit that becomes quite wearing: the yakuza are corrupt, the cops are corrupt, even the local priests are corrupt, their grave-robbing antics being what kicks the quest for the kimono sash off. But it’s all too meandering, and Gosha [who also directed The Yakuza Wives] seems to be much more in love with these subsidiary characters than they deserve. Ocho and Oren are fine – the latter, in particular, is a memorably slimy creature, who is not as weak as she appears. There just isn’t enough of them.

Occasional moments here do work: mostly, when the two female leads have not been shunted off to one side, making way for macho grunting by top-knotted sword-wielders. I don’t have a problem with films like this, that take a different approach to familiar material. However, style alone isn’t enough, and what’s left here is infuriatingly flawed. There’s the basis of a great storyline, and a pair of superb central characters; that’s a foundation many movies would kill for, and on which Gosha could have built. Rarely have I seen such solid ground wasted as badly as occurs in this film.

Dir: Hideo Gosha
Star: Mariko Ishihara, Mari Natsuki, Masanori Sera, TakuzĂ´ Kawatani
a.k.a. Jitterna. There’s also some question over whether it’s Shadow or Shadows. The IMDb goes for the former, the DVD sleeve the latter.

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