Beast To Die Review
The Beast To Die is a curious movie. It is a film looking at the making of a sociopath and as such relies strongly on the characterisation of it's lead, Yusaku Matsuda, and particularly his performance. Unsurprisingly, the camera rarely strays far from the star and the events and settings of the film really exist only to frame Matsuda's performance. For the most part, this is an exceptionally cold and calculating turn which treats human life as collateral damage and is unimpressed by kindness and affection. Only at the beginning and end of the film, does Matsuda let loose and play it large. At the top of the film we see him attacking a policeman and stealing his gun to commit a bloody opportunist heist, the heist and ambush are chaotic and shambling as his character finds his feet on his demon's journey. The ambush is wonderfully shot from an objective high angle as the policeman and Matsuda struggle and sprawl in the sheeting rain and near darkness. We follow Matsuda into a nightclub where the local Yakuza are counting their money and his awkward gun-play almost destroys the element of surprise and he is forced to scrabble on the floor with dying, bleeding men before he can steal their stash. The nightclub is decked in red and the Yakuza white, as Matsuda baptises his gun. This opening ten minutes is brilliantly desperate with the director experimenting with set design and camera position to hammer home the sheer clumsiness and impotence of both attacks, before returning to his apartment lost in contemplation of his acts.
Rather than be discouraged by the mayhem, Matsuda's loner prepares for greater plans built on his transgression, revelling in his taboo status as a killer. Like Hannibal Lector years later, he enjoys his madness with some classical music and the finer things in life. At a classical concert he meets a young woman who tries to befriend him, but the feelings she causes in him are ones he repudiates and he rejects her advances. With a local policeman on his tail, he finds a partner and a protege and his minutely planned robbery goes ahead with ruthless expedience and a sea of blood. Finding the dogged policeman difficult to shake, Matsuda's character starts to reveal what has made him the man he now is. And it is at this stage that the film loses some of the impact it has created by allowing Matsuda too much latitude in exploring his character's breakdown. What was a contained piece of acting becomes theatrical and expressionist as Matsuda's character starts to caper about physically and mentally, and a sociopathic loner becomes a fruitcake with an army of tics and evil expressions. This final direction of the film seems to confirm that the director and star are aiming for a reading of the killer as a demon rather than a more finely described nihilist, and this transports the denouement of the film beyond logic into stylised nonsense.
The raving of the finale is a pity as for 90% of its duration, this is brilliant stuff. Much like the star and director's other collaboration, Resurrection of the Golden Wolf, the film wastes some terrific offbeat ideas and superb setpieces with moralising designed to excuse the darkness that the whole film has dwelt within. The pessimism of the world where a man like Date is created is realised brilliantly and the efforts to deal justice on him in the shape of retribution ruin the off kilter character study that the film was. This is not to claim that the film is a model of plotting despite the ending as it is more interested in the exercising style and image instead of structure and sense. If you looked at the plot of the film for any length of time, it would fail to explain why the policeman is dogging Date or why Date is the subject of police interest at the opening of the film, but the film is richer in ideas around the making of a sociopath and the destruction of societal rules and empathy. On the level of images and emotion the film is rich in imagining the darkness of Date's world and captures some of the misery of a world there is no common feeling - the shooting in the bank is one of the darkest moral moments I can ever remember in film, it is not only murder of an innocent, but the murder of compassion and the death of redemption.
The Beast to Die pleased me overall as a film of great technique, if not a coherent statment. The intention of bathing Date in a kind of demonic light is truly terrifying at times and it is this horror at the core of man which the film does most successfully and this is largely the work of the director and his leading actor. The film is most effective when it shows the steely refusal to consider other people as the making of this sociopath, but loses pace when it tries to explain and moralise itself. It is re-assuring to know why evil happens and that it can be brought to an end and perhaps this is the intention of Date's final scenes, but this desire fails to ring true with the impassive murderer who shamelessly destroys love and life we had seen earlier.
The movie is presented anamorphically on a single layer disc with a trailer as it's sole extra. The transfer is soft, lacking detail, shows motion blur and is undeniably grainy. The contrast seems wrong to my eyes with the shades of the darker night scenes are lost in a complete blackness and some of the brighter colour moments overwhelm the detail. The scene with Date baptising his protege after a murder is a stunning sequence which should have moments of lightning cracking through the image like cries of anger from an out-raged god but instead here the features of Date are lost in softness and the blue night sky is amorphous behind him. The transfer has moments of compression artefacts and the noise in the transfer is apparent in the day or night. The single audio track seems to have been cleaned up and the result is that the sound avoids distortion but remains a little muffled and restrained when there is exhilirating music or atmosphere to enjoy. There are occasional hisses and pops.
A cracking film that loses it's moral compass towards the end. The disc is most definitely cheap and those with high end set ups or big screens may have to swallow some concerns to enjoy this package, but The Beast To Die is worth some of your time.