Combustible Celluloid Review - Afraid to Die (1960), Hideo Andô, Ryûzô Kikushima, Yasuzo Masumura, Yukio Mishima, Ayako Wakao, Keizo Kawasaki, Eiji Funakoshi, Takashi Shimura, Yaeko Mizutani, Michiko Ono
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Yukio Mishima, Ayako Wakao, Keizo Kawasaki, Eiji Funakoshi, Takashi Shimura, Yaeko Mizutani, Michiko Ono
Written by: Hideo Andô, Ryûzô Kikushima
Directed by: Yasuzo Masumura
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 03/23/1960

Afraid to Die (1960)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Yasuzo Masumura is known by a much smaller fraction of film buffs than his Japanese contemporaries. At first I thought he might have been considered a "B" filmmaker, slapped aside to the fringes of film history. But even if he was, he counts among his fans filmmakers Michelangelo Antonioni and Nagisa Oshima.

He studied film and filmmaking in Italy, wrote about Italian master Luchino Visconti and the history of Japanese cinema. Returning to Japan, he assisted the great Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa at Daiei Studios before becoming a director himself. He enjoyed working with the same collaborators again and again, over the course of his 50-odd films. He was interested in characters at the extreme of human behavior, which resonates universally, but especially in Japan.

In Masumura's Afraid to Die, famous Japanese author Yukio Mishima stars as a yakuza newly released from jail and awkwardly hitting the streets again after a failed attempt on his life. He falls in love with a ticket girl at a movie theater he owns and uses as a hideout. With his leather jacket and cool attitude, he tries to be the tough guy going to war with a crime boss, but continually blurs the line between passive and active, between respectable and criminal.

San Francisco's Fantoma Films has released Afraid to Die along with three other Masumura films on DVD for the first time: Giants and Toys (1958), Manji (1964), and Blind Beast (1969). All four are presented in color and "Daieiscope" widescreen, and though the colors might not seem as bold as you'd expect, we have to remember that color from this period is notoriously difficult to restore (various shades fade and shrink faster than other shades). Fantoma has done a remarkable job refurbishing these great films to DVD.

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