Thursday, July 9, 2015

Abashiri Prison (1965) New York Asian Film Festival 2015

First in a series of 11 or so films made Ken Takakura a superstar when it was released.

The film concerns Takakura who is tossed into what is concerned the Japanese Alcatraz, a prison in the far north of Japan.  Trying to deal with staying on the good side of the prisoners so he can get out on parole, he also has to deal with the guilt for having left his put upon mother who's second husband was a drunk bastard. When word arrives that his mother is dying of breast cancer Takakura gets involved with a prison break.

Good little action film left me with one big question- how the hell did this spawn 10 direct sequels and a few additional related ones? Don't get me wrong I like this film- I just have no idea  why this clicked so much with audiences. Takakura's back story is pure soap opera, the prison stuff is more amusing than gripping and the characters are cliche. Its enjoyable but the source of a series?

The film does score in two key areas-

First the snow bound look of the film is largely unlike any film I've ever run across. Yes RUNAWAY TRAIN echoes the look of this film, but the deep snow that fills this film and hampers the long final escape sequence makes this film stand out.

Secondly the escape is amazing. Containing several set pieces that are truly awesome (the tram chase and the train encounter) this final section has enough moments to keep the whole fixed in your mind. The sequence, removed from the larger plot is truly amazing, the trouble is that its tethered to cliches of the plot and it takes the edge off all of everything.

I'm not sure that either the snow or the escape warrant the creation of sequels but as a stand alone this is a pretty good film.

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