The Flowers and the Angry Waves Review
It’s 1964 and Seijun Suzuki continues to work harder than any other director doing the rounds. Working from a novel by Aoyama Koji he tells the story of Ogata Kikuji (Kobayashi Akira) - a former Yakuza member, now on the straight and narrow. One year ago he rescued a woman named Oshige (Matsubara Chieko) from the clutches of his Yakuza boss and shortly after they wed; for his insolent behaviour a quiet assassin called Yoshimura (Kawaji Tamio) is sent to take care of Kikuji, who is now living under the roof of reformed gangster and innkeeper Ihei (Takashina Kaku). Meanwhile, Kikuji keeps his relationship with Oshige a secret, even shielding his marriage from Manryu (Kubo Naoko) - who has taken quite a liking to him and wishes to escape her depressing situation, brought on by years of having to put up with unscrupulous men.
Elsewhere, Police Det. Tanioka (Tamagawa Isao) is making the rounds in Asakusa, Tokyo, when he spots Yoshimura sneaking about. He insists that he’ll find out what he’s up to, though before long he’s mixed up in Kikuji and Oshige’s life: he makes an attempt to pursue Oshige, not knowing of her marriage to the man who will be Yoshimura’s next intended victim. Kikuji is currently working for the Murata clan as a minor, but soon he’ll become involved with a rival gang known as the Tamio, who seek to steal their contract for the Daito Power Company. Kikuji is about to be forced back into a life he once escaped, and this time there may not be a way out.
Suzuki’s The Flowers and the Angry Waves is busy in every sense of the word. At a slight 90 minutes it consists of several narrative strands; each one representing a distinct social climate. We have a love triangle which explores forbidden boundaries; a political furore involving territorial disputes; and an assassin’s hunt for a former Yakuza, with the police close behind. And all of this takes place with the backdrop of a newly welcomed century, where westernized fashions are plastered all over Suzuki’s striking visuals. Naturally, then, there’s an awful lot of baggage, and yet Suzuki seems in total control of events. He takes greater pains in establishing particular work ethics above all, which manages to draw strong parallels between the likes of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s works, who was also addressing shitty politics in relation to poorer workforces vs. unforgiving hierarchies during the early sixties (see Pitfall for example), and while Suzuki’s film here is set at the dawn of a new era it nonetheless remains a relevant exercise. His handling of this critique is somewhat fresh in that he finds new angles to work with: one such scene of poignancy sees Kikuji tell his boss that while his job is important, it’s not one worth dying for. This of course underlines the inherent violence in a back-stabbing community, while making full use of Kikuji’s former Yakuza figure who’s forced back into a life he never truly wanted. Therefore it’s often compelling to see Kobayashi Akira’s rather tragic figure walk a fine line between love and hate, while conspirators act to betray him in the shadows. But Suzuki isn’t afraid to inject a little dark humour here and there, however morbid it might appear. One instance involves the Murata clan unsuccessfully challenging the Tamai, who are kitted out with firearms, upon which Boroichi returns bullet-riddled, laughing it off and merely saying that he got a bit unlucky.
Granted, this entire aspect of the film’s narrative is the most robust, digging firmly into character’s mindsets and highlighting the kind of despondence that working men faced in a time of inevitable change. Other areas, while slightly middling, are nonetheless intriguing. The early arrival of an assassin named Yoshimura grants the film a curious back-story, in which Kikuji rescued Oshige from a considerably evil man. It’s here where the danger naturally lies, and for the most part Suzuki, or rather Kawaji Tamio, portrays this assassin as a quiet, sneaking professional - as he indeed should. Yoshimura is understandably a cold creation, who’s only really enlivened by a top hat and black cape, with red lining (perhaps an influence on a much later Sailor Moon character I might assume), but his presence is always felt. Meanwhile the burgeoning triangle between Kikuji, Oshige and Manryu is occasionally side-stepped. There is an obvious sense of importance and the director does well to establish great differences between them, in particular toward Manryu’s plight amongst being oppressed by male dominators - though by painting her as a strong-willed female she does come off as being significantly refined - but due to his very excessive nature of preventing boredom by cutting to the next scene as soon as possible, he leaves much to the viewer’s imagination. Occasionally we witness sad realisations, none more heartbreaking than the fact that Kikuji bears a tattoo of Oshige’s name on his arm, but has to cover it up, in addition to secretly having to meet her every night at Ihei’s inn, despite being married to her. A truly tragic and frustrating state of affairs.
Looking at the film from an aesthetic standpoint it really is quite a sight to behold. Seijun Suzuki is indebted to his cinematographer Nagatsuka Kazue and art director Kimura Takeo, the later of whom co-wrote the screenplay. They capture the Japan of old as well as Kurosawa and Naruse ever did, and with Suzuki’s bursting palette and contrasting traditions they create a seemingly authentic and mingling society, demonstrating great openness with its entertainment districts, in conjunction with the more seedy underbelly of Yakuza lifestyles and dank mining locations. The film has its share of twisting alleyways that threaten to entrap our hero figure, as the wandering assassin draws ever closer. And, given that it’s what he’s paid to do, Suzuki relishes in the opportunity of delivering several action scenes. While few are fairly standard, one in particular shows the director on top form. Saving some of his best tricks for an outdoor showdown between the Murata and Tamai clans, he employs some top-draw tracking shots and brief single takes, in what becomes one of the film’s most well staged and delirious moments; while toward the end of the feature another great tracking shot held outside a train plays up to viewer’s emotions in setting up a foreboding atmosphere. On the whole it’s quite restrained though, with Suzuki very rarely challenging convention in terms of his more surreal output - most of this is done in terms of editing, with startling time shifts - although there are short moments in which he delivers some interesting compositions and unnatural lighting, which primarily aid some expositional pieces: such as the opening sequence and a later conspiracy.
We find that most of the characters involved in The Flowers and the Angry Waves represent some form of symbolic gesture. The main theme seems to be in illustrating how they wish to change their lives for the better; this can clearly be seen in the characters of Kikuji: the main voice of reason, Manryu and Ihei - each one coming from a difficult background and finding that trying to live a new life isn’t always enough to mask who they once were. Set against them are initial stock criminal and police officers, but even they offer a glimmer of hope with the notion that reaching out to help someone in the face of carrying out a strict duty is simply an act of humanity, which certainly rings true of Tanioka by the end of the feature. Some instances may appear far-fetched, but over the years in cinema we’ve often been accustomed to the good guys helping the bad and vice versa, and that’s no doubt thanks to films such as this, which weren’t afraid at taking certain liberties with their material. But in the end it resonates well, and that’s largely with credit going to a great cast. Kobayashi Akira (also singing the main theme) and Matsubara Chieko were already well acquainted from previous films together, and while there isn’t a great deal played between them there’s no doubting their loyalty toward one another. The antithesis between the characters played by Kobayashi, Kawachi and to more or less the same degree, Tamagawa is equally well played, will Kawachi’s hit man being the more stark and traditional villain. As Manryu, the psychologically torn Geisha, Kubo Naoko puts in one or two scene stealing and alluring turns, which rounds of a solid ensemble.
Again, featuring some lovely artwork, even if the main English font detracts from the overall image somewhat, The Flowers and the Angry Waves comes as part of Yume Picture’s Seijun Suzuki Collection.
Well, at least Yume has done right by this one. The Flower and the Angry Waves is given a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, which despite being a standards conversion isn’t too shabby looking. Colour levels appear far more natural in comparison to their previous title Fighting Delinquents, although contrast is a little too high, black levels hold up reasonably well. There is still a fair amount of aliasing however, which shows up predominantly on certain character’s Yukatas, but there’s far less in the way of detracting factors here. Detail is generally good, though wider shots tend to exhibit more obvious soft qualities.
The Japanese 2.0 mono track is without much complaint. It naturally has a few pops and crackles here and there - nothing greatly distracting. Dialogue is nonetheless clear and the film’s score is provided enough radiance. There’s very little to elaborate on with these kinds of tracks, other than to say it’s exactly how you should expect it to be.
Optional English subtitles are included and aside from one spelling error that I noticed they’re pretty much spot on. There are no timing issues to report of either.
Bonus features are again restricted to trailers for Yume’s Seijun Suzuki and Yasuzo Masumura collections, while an essay by Tony Rayns graces the inner sleeve cover.
The Flowers and the Angry Waves is a great little number from Seijun Suzuki: an exquisite looking film and one that’s filled with an extraordinary amount of diversity, which ensures that it just about has a little of everything for fans of Japanese cinema.
Last updated: 05/05/2018 21:54:20