Screening Log: Age of Assassins (Kihachi Okamoto, 1967)

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07/02/2008 3:48 PM |

Stuff the gets flung or flings itself directly at the camera during Kihachi Okamoto’s Age of Assassins:

  • A fork with food on it, shot from the mouth’s p.o.v.
  • Knuckles about to rap on a door, shot from the door’s p.o.v.
  • Slingshot ammo.
  • The grimacing face of a mad scientist and diehard Nazi who stocks his society of contract killers with the residents of the insane asylum he runs.
  • Tatsuya Nakada, firing an assault rifle at a tank, shot from the tank’s p.o.v. (he then goes “yipes”, or its Japanese equivalent, turns around and runs away from the camera).

Even more so than in his savage samurai sorta-spoof Kill! (forthcoming in Film Forum’s Nakadai series, where I saw this one), Okamoto’s Age of Assassins is genre-film burlesque. The plot and and storytelling is parodically complicated, sensational and arbitrary; the tone is shamelessly outsized, with every gesture a grotesque of itself. Here, there’s death by eye patch, crutch and playing card (and that’s just the first three); running bits about athlete’s foot and sputtering old jalopies; showdowns with a hypnotist posing as a spiritualist and dressed as a dominatrix, bathing beauties and a man with a machine gun for a band; one-liners flung about during hair-raising escapes from army bombardments and fireworks.

The somewhat psychedelic decor (though actually fairly cheap-looking, in an appealing B-movie way) and hitman underworld will elicit some comparison to Seijun Suzuki, which is fair, but the movie is maybe closer to cut-ups like Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Miike, who direct everything in ALL CAPS, to effect that’d be wearying if the material itself wasn’t already a step ahead of its audience. (No sure thing in Miike’s case, obvs.) For a movie with this many chases scenes, sight gags, pyrotechnics and hand-to-hand death matches, Okamoto shoots a staggering amount of it in looming, bulging close-ups (think, like, Joseph H. Lewis); he’s got the innate sense of composition of many of his postwar-classicist contemporaries, to go along with his New Wavishly skeptical approach to genre convention. Though of course the revisionism is pretty anarchic, to the point that the subversion manifests as class clowning. This is a raspberry of a movie, blown with sustained tempo and virtuosic variety.