Friday, July 3, 2015
An archetypal prison breakout movie, Abashiri Prison is the starting point of Ken Takakura’s meteoric rise to superstardom. With this film Takakura became the epitome of Japanese manhood, strong and sensitive in equal measure. Here he plays Shinichi Tsukibana, a lone-wolf low-level yakuza who still believes in honor among thieves and lives by an upright code of conduct. After three years behind bars amid the shadiest characters in Japan, he has almost served his time within the walls of legendary Abashiri Prison. Built in the Meiji Era, the prison stands in a desolate area of wintry Hokkaido, as inescapable as Alcatraz or Devil’s Island. Events take an unexpected turn for this model prisoner when he finds himself breaking out of jail, chained to the mercurial and malevolent Gunda (Koji Nanbara), a man whose villainy knows no limits. Bound to each other like the protagonists of The Defiant Ones, they start a perilous journey on the run, wading through the snowstruck stretches of the north. This could very well be the end of the earth, or of their lives.
Print courtesy of Toei Co. Ltd. Presented with the support of Japan Foundation New York.