Nippon Noir: I AM WAITING (1957)

iam1In recent years I’ve seen a critical push to apply familiar terms like Film Noir to all manner of Japanese crime films made during the 1950s and 60s. The term has even been applied to the culturally specific Sun Tribe films (please see my previous post that discusses Sun Tribe films), Pink Films of an adult nature and the more experimental and political films that exemplify the Japanese New Wave. I don’t always agree with this “roping in” because it often limits our understanding of Japanese cinema, which contains historical and cultural influences that typically defy simplistic categorizations. But sometimes the term fits.

It’s worth remembering that after WW2 the Japanese film industry was largely controlled by the U.S. occupation forces. Japanese filmmakers faced immense pressure from American censors to make films that resembled Hollywood’s output at the time and in postwar Hollywood Film Noir was thriving. The concentrated effort to destroy much of Japan’s cinematic history and modernize the country led to an onslaught of gun totting detectives, dangerous dames and cutthroat criminals in Japanese cinema that began replacing the sword wielding samurais, kimono-clad ladies and gentle families that had previously populated the movies. Amid these changes filmmakers created their own distinct body of work that became more progresses and subversive after the American occupation ended. But the impact of Hollywood’s aggressively imposed influence is undeniable and in this postwar climate elements of Film Noir became deeply rooted within the Japanese film industry. One particularly striking example of this is Koreyoshi Kurahara’s I am Waiting (1957), which makes its debut on TCM January 18th (1am PST/4am EST).

I am Waiting opens on the dark damp docks of Yokohama where Jôji Shimaki (Yujiro Ishihara) is closing up his Reef Restaurant for the night. As he makes his way over derelict bridges and down twisty rain-soaked streets to mail a letter, he spots a lovely dame (Mie Kitahara) standing by the water’s edge. She’s wet, tired and plainly distraught so kindly Jôji invites her back to his place where he offers her a drink and a warm meal. When the two start talking, Jôji coaxes the woman into telling him her somber tale of woe and over the course of the film she eventually learns his sad story as well. She is a once proud opera star who is now forced to sing in dingy nightclubs after losing her voice while being pursued by all manner of lowlifes. He is a one-time boxing champion who accidentally killed a man in a bar fight and was forced to go into the restaurant business. She’s lost all hope but Joji maintains a fragile optimism while waiting to hear from his older brother who traveled to Brazil a year ago in an attempt to buy some farmland where the two siblings could start a new life together. Unfortunately for Jôji, his brother refuses to answer his letters and may have gone missing along with the family’s fortune. Will the beautiful melancholy girl that mysteriously walked into Jôji’s life be his salvation or his doom?

iam6

iam4

iam3

iam5

Japanese director Koreyoshi Kurahara was born in Borneo in the state of Sarawak, which was occupied by the British at the time making it a somewhat diverse and culturally rich location to grow up in. His family returned to Japan during WW2 and Kurahara became interested in the film business early in life. While attending film classes at the Nihon University College of Art he met director Ishirō Honda (GODZILLA; 1954) and Honda introduced him to Kajiro Yamamoto (teacher, director, and Akira Kurosawa’s mentor) who became his tutor. After graduating college, Kurahara went on to work at the Nikkatsu studios where he became an assistant director and eventually got the opportunity to make his own films. His impressive first full-length feature for Nikkatsu was I am Waiting.

Viewers will be able to easily spot the influence of early American as well as French Film Noir on I am Waiting. From its jazz-infused score by the brilliant Japanese composer Masaru Sato, to the dark and shadow-lined cinematography of Kurataro, Takamura as well as the surprisingly gritty script by Shintaro Ishihara, almost all traces of old Japan are missing from the film. Signs seem to scream out their information in bold English letters (Reef Restaurant! Bar Keel!) in addition, the characters all sport western clothing while drinking western beverages (Cognac! Coffee!). There are no kimonos or sake bottles in sight. Even the music and sports the main character’s favor (opera over enka and boxing over sumo) suggest a postwar western world where criminals are running amok and guns are easy to acquire.

Koreyoshi Kurahara’s film is a wonderful introduction to the amazing world of Japanese crime films that regular TCM viewers should appreciate. I only wish it was on at an earlier hour so more people would have a chance to see it but if you can’t stay up that late make sure to record it for a future watch. It airs right after Koreyoshi Kurahara’s much better known and highly regarded Sun Tribe film, The Warped Ones (1960). This aggressively stylish and daring follow-up to I am Waiting helped kick start the Japanese New Wave and secured Kurahara’s position as one of the country’s most innovative filmmakers. If you tune into TCM Imports Sunday night you’re in for one helluva double feature. Tune in or (in the words of some of favorite Noir characters) I might have to bust your chops!

Further reading:
- Eclipse Series 17: Nikkatsu Noir By Chuck Stephens
- I Am Waiting By Peter Nellhaus

Save

Save

6 Responses Nippon Noir: I AM WAITING (1957)
Posted By LD : January 15, 2015 11:35 pm

Thank you Kimberly for the information about Japanese postwar noir. The only films from Japan I have seen are Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI and RASHOMON. Also a couple of the GODZILLA movies. I did not realize the Japanese had their own version of noir.

For a couple of years in the 1950′s I lived with my parents in Fukuoka Japan. An army brat. I was too young to have memories, only stories told to me later. Your post reminded me we were part of the occupation forces.

My DVR is set to record both films. Looking forward to watching them.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 16, 2015 7:20 pm

Thank you, LD! I really hope you get a chance to see this since I’m sure you’d enjoy it. Living in Japan after the war must have been fascinating for your parents. It’s too bad they left before you were able to experience the country more. I’ve been there 3 times (once in 1976 as a kid, in 2001 on business & in 2006 for pleasure) and it’s given me a real appreciation for the culture & the people.

Posted By swac44 : January 16, 2015 10:26 pm

I have the Nikkatsu Noir set from Criterion, but haven’t gotten around to watching I Am Waiting yet, thanks for the inspiration to give it a spin this weekend! I love the Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukasaku films I’ve seen so far, looking forward to delving into Koreyoshi Kurahara as well.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 16, 2015 11:12 pm

I Am Waiting is the most traditional Film Noir in that Criterion set and I believe it’s the oldest film as well. Suzuki and Fukasaku’s films are much more modern, influenced by the New Wave as much as traditional Noir imo. I think you’d really enjoy Kurahara’s stuff swac so I hope you can find time to dive into his filmography soon!

Posted By LD : January 19, 2015 10:24 pm

Kimberly, just finished watching I AM WAITING and from the start of the film I knew I was in the land of noir. Everything you said in your post about lighting, atmosphere, dress, music, is western in nature. Kurahara even used a couple of brief flashbacks. I can tell I am really enjoying a foreign language film when I forget I’m reading subtitles. Thank you for recommending this film. I am going to save it for a while on the DVR. One thing I noticed in a major fight scene where we would expect chops and kicks it was strictly blood and fists. Now, that’s noir. Oh, and the occasional gun.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 20, 2015 8:31 pm

LD – So glad you enjoyed the film! It definitely wears its influences proudly. It seems to have generated a lot of interest on social media sites like Twitter & Facebook so hopefully that will encourage TCM to run more Japanese crime films in the future.

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

We regret to inform you that FilmStruck is now closed.  Our last day of service was November 29, 2018.

Please visit tcm.com/help for more information.

We would like to thank our many fans and loyal customers who supported us.  FilmStruck was truly a labor of love, and in a world with an abundance of entertainment options – THANK YOU for choosing us.