As a heavy locomotive enters a tunnel, smokes of soot fill the screen. The contrast between drab blackness of the engine and overexposed whiteness of snow creates an atmosphere of desolation and isolation. Just looking at this brutal contrast of the heavy machinery and the unforgiving nature, we know we are invited to the world of full of dead ends and boredom.
The opening of INTIMIDATION (ある脅迫,1960) brings us into a snow-bound isolated town of Northern Japan. Nao-etsu (now a part of Joetsu City) was a coastal town of Niigata. It was known as a center of logistics, when the Naoetsu Port was one of the busiest port in Sea of Japan area during 19th and 20th centuries. It is a story of two salarymen in the local bank in Nao-etsu, one on the way to the top and the other being the bottom of corporate caste. Takita (Nobuo Kaneko) is the assistant manager of the Nao-etsu Branch of Niigata Bank, and promoted to the executive position in HQ. Though he is an arrogant hypocrite, Takita is well regarded by his managers and executives, mainly because he is married to the bank president’s daughter. While Takita and Nakaike (Kou Nishimura) are childhood friends, Nakaike is considered as a no-good employee by everybody in the Branch. His demeanor is too timid and overtly humble, and the Branch manager picks on him too often.
Though everything looks bright for Takita, he has a dirty little secret: he was embezzling bank’s money by fraud loans to finance his mistress. And a yakuza from Tokyo comes all the way to Nao-etsu to give him some shakedown.
Sharp black & white cinematography by Yamazaki brings icy coldness and dark bleakness into the streets of this sleepy town. Acting by Kaneko and Nishimura is exceptional and the tout direction by Kurahara compress this complex story into mere 66 minutes.
20th century will be remembered as an age of white collar revolution. In the beginning, it had started as a seemingly infinite expansion of industrial modernization. Heavy industries requiring huge amount of coal and other raw materials devoured blue collar workers. However, from mid-century, many corporations transformed themselves into “value-oriented” entities, hiring more highly educated collage graduates. This transformation created more “offices” and means of communicating each other. And white collar workers in these offices are spending most of their time writing, talking and listening (and little bit of thinking). In this system of capitalism, banks are particularly powerful because they create and drive the flow of capital.
When I was a kid, many adults, — my parents, my relatives, neighbors etc. — said to me getting a job in a bank is a “prestigious thing” and “very difficult”. This was because Japanese banks, when hiring people, did a thorough, and I mean THOROUGH, background check, using investigators and special agencies. The candidate must come from a “clean” family, meaning no financial troubles, no bad credit history, and no trouble with law. This “family” often included relatives with multiple degrees. And of course the candidate must be well-educated. In many cases, nepotism and favoritism work best. Once you are hired in a bank, you don’t have to worry about anything, anything at all. You will be considered a respectable man/woman in the community, with a generous salary, under very stable employment until retirement.
Takita in “Intimidation” must have been a well-respected person in the small city of Nao-etsu. Most of the private business owners and local businessmen in the area must have known him. Moreover, he is married to the daughter of the president of the bank he is working for. In the small rural city of Northern Japan, that means he is not just another white collar bank employee. He is a part of local high society and not just rich: he is powerful and will become even more powerful in the community, if everything goes well.
Because Takita and his wife are leaving Nao-etsu and moving to Niigata city where the bank HQ is located, they are getting ready for moving, and their house is full of packed boxes. In one of the scenes in the film, you can actually see what their life looks like. There are boxes of a TV set, a juice mixer and a stereo audio set. Interestingly they are all Hitachi brand (maybe an early example of product placement in Japanese films). The stereo set is labeled “Hitachi PSG-520” and the Hitachi brochure from 1959 lists this audio set at 28,800 yen. Roughly adjusting for inflation, it is around $4,000. Including other electronics like TV and the juice mixer, it suggests his household contained many luxuries most of the people at the time could not afford.
He seems to be more than affluent in any measure. Then, why did Takita need to embezzle the bank money? Because he needed to ‘finance’ his mistress.
(Continue to Part 2)
Intimidation (ある脅迫, 1960)
Directed by Koreyoshi Kurehara
Written by Osamu Kawase
Based on the novel by Kyo Takigawa
Cinematography by Yoshihiro Yamazaki
Starring Nobuo Kaneko, Kou Nishimura
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