Pitfall Review

A miner (Hiroshi Segawa) and his son (Kazuo Miyahara) set out to find work in Western Japan after a spate of fruitless endeavours. As they move through a small mining town they see desolation, not a soul in sight, save for a shopkeeper (Sumie Sasaki) whose business has been poor of late. When the miner heads further out he soon becomes privy to a man dressed in white (Kunie Tanaka), following him along a country lane. He sees the man gain on him quicker and as he tries to fly the man pursues, knife in hand, resulting in the miner's death. As the miner breathes his last his ghost rises and he finds himself wandering the town, filled with ghosts that only he can see, as he tries to find the reason behind his murder.

Hiroshi Teshigahara's debut marks the first in a collaborative effort between composer Toru Takemitsu and novelist, Kobo Abe who would work together for three more films after this (Woman of the Dunes, The Face of Another and The Ruined Map. This partnership firmly attained quite a reputation amongst minds and the trio would continue to address similar themes over the years.

Pitfall (Otoshiana) is Teshigahara's social critique on the state of the poor man working in a post-war era that questions several meanings in life and sports several characters who each represent a part of the very society that Teshigahara documents. The director thinks of his film as being a fantasy/documentary, one which studies the way in which the working class are ill treated by the hands of their unsupportive hierarchy and it does indeed work as such. Initially starting off by merging stock footage, consisting of news clips about real mining accidents amidst the films narrative, Teshigahara starts to paint a grisly picture that demonstrates the hardships faced by such easily led people, desperate to support themselves in a time when their best interests may not have been better looked after, but throughout all of this the director finds time to instil a genuinely affecting tale of mystery and intrigue.

In the process of study we see a main character who is trying to unlock clues behind his death, whose frustrations understandably get the better of him as he finds himself walking aimlessly through a town filled with others like him - the part of society which has been looked down upon and left to suffer in a place too far from the outskirts of any major city. As he struggles to find answers he continuously gets knocked back by those who tell him that when you're dead you're dead, why worry about the events that led up to it. But as he tries to justify his actions by saying he will rest in peace he only sets himself up for further disappointment. The search for answers and one's own identity fuels the story and has the viewer questioning its themes of morality through the vicious cycle that plays out. As serious as the film may sound there is also a strong sense of humour, dark as it may be it is nonetheless significant when addressing certain topics, least of which sees the dead miner forever destined to be a starving man, while the fellow next to him has to put up with a broken neck for eternity. But then the humour within also addresses the seriousness of its nature as the miner is really no better or worse off in the afterlife.

Attesting to its evident social portrayal is a landscape so baron and dirty, yet filmed so deliciously capturing the required sense of reality in relation to its ethereal spirit world - that by which the spirits of the dead inhabit. Juxtaposed between both worlds its intent is by large similar, even in death does one ever become free of the drudgery of a destined fate, ruled by poverty? It questions an ideal world and its emphasis on the hopelessness of it all makes for quite a challenge. The corporate greed, backstabbing and twisted lies that corrupt many a corporation can be construed from its steady telling and Teshigahara’s pain staking attention to the details that lie within.

This sculpted wasteland is accompanied by the often jarring tones of Toru Takemitsu, whose score keeps to a bare minimum, striking only when fundamentally needed. Takemitsu highlights the present dangers surrounding our protagonist but his minimal approach causes more uncertainty within, that had it been a full blown score might have dragged the film down to an otherwise ineffective state. By keeping a steady and subtle tone the score's marriage to its images ultimately create a sense of unknowing for our sorry lead, which is a vital component from the viewers side when trying to ascertain along the same lines as he.

If anything were to go against Pitfall then it would be its relatively uneven use of the son. The film would appear to follow the boy's journey as much as his father's, seeing much through his eyes as events unfold but where some areas are clear others are slightly more obscured. The boy rarely speaks and whatever it is that Teshigahara is trying to say about the lad or what he represents is lost amongst the various other players. For a character as central to the story not enough is made of him, going past lingering looks and curiosity for the world around him. But then perhaps the point itself is that we're simply meant to witness this all through his eyes and that his life may well be changed by having seen the things he has.


Number 5 in Eureka's Masters of Cinema series, Pitfall is presented for the first time in the west on DVD. As an added note this is also uncut (featuring animal cruelty). Coming in a standard amaray case with attractive artwork the DVD is also accompanied by a 12-page booklet that focuses on composer, Takemitsu and is penned by David Toop - author, critic and sound curator. In addition we get a small biography on Hiroshi Teshigahara.


Digitally restored and presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio Pitfall looks superb. Black levels are perfectly suited and contrast is well handled. There are visible amounts of dirt here and there but the image is clean and free from artefacts and general compression faults. I can't even find any edge enhancement so I'm going to award this full marks.

Added to the wonderful transfer is the original monaural soundtrack which has been restored to its fullest. All things considered it's a fine soundtrack. For a film this old the restoration on it is great, with no obvious hissing or defects. The score is accommodated for with a crisp sounding track that reproduces dialogue clearly. As with the transfer this is as top of the line as things get.


Audio Commentary with Tony Rayns
Tony Rayns provides an often fascinating commentary with regards to this feature and the era in which it was made. Thankfully he’s a great speaker and doesn't let up for the films' duration as he provides us an insight toward Teshigahara, his collaborators as well as addressing some of the important aspects of the Japanese film industry during the 60's. He gives his opinions on how he perceives the film and at times he is as curious as we might be as some of the elements remain more obscure than others. Overall Rayns is a welcome contributor, if not a little dry at times, with a brilliant amount of knowledge at his disposal which brings about some facts that are very interesting.

Original Trailer
A lot of these older films used trailers which showed a bit too much perhaps. It is recommended that you view this after seeing the film.

Exclusive Stills Gallery (15.00)
An impressive set of behind the scenes photos and promotional material, which runs for quite a length of time. Each picture lasts for 15-seconds before moving on.


Pitfall is an impressive debut from one of Japan's most important directors. It sets up the themes he would inevitably tackle later on in life and from the evidence here his attitude toward his subjects is very methodical. Here we begin to see a master craftsman in the making and it's with thanks going to Eureka that we can see Teshigahara's debut looking its best. By the looks of things Eureka are shaping up to be the UK's answer to Criterion and lets hope their line remains as impressive as the discs we've seen so far.

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