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Recently seen movies #29

March 17, 2008

Retreat Through the Wet Wasteland (Japan, 1973) – 4/5

Retreat Through the Wet Wasteland was a problematic production from the beginning. In 1973 Nikkatsu had already taken a full dive into the ’pink only’ strategy, however that was not what director Yukihiro Sawada had on his mind. He and screenwriter Kazuhiko Hasegawa (The Man Who Stole the Sun) had crafted an uncompromising tale of police corruption with little emphasis on the typical pink film elements.

Reportedly the studio executives were less than willing to see the film completed, but the strong willed production crew kept their heads and only gave in to the studio’s requirement to camouflage the film by adding the word ”wet” (nureta) into the title. As unfair as such compromise may feel, it was a small price to pay for director Sawada. After all, he did not deliver a harmless sex flick but a political hand granade that could have caused a scandal.

The film opens with five men breaking into church, stealing the charity funds and raping the churchwarden’s daughter. Later these men, who turn out to be police officers, return to the scene of crime to cover their tracks. Being above the law and able use their position to get away clean from any situation, there seems to be no stopping this group. Not until a former colleague of theirs escapes from a mental institution and forms a possible risk factor. Two cops set out to capture and take out this new threat.

Retreat Through the Wet Wasteland lives up to its reputation. The storyline is dark but well written, and doesn’t play only for shock value. The main character, excellently played by Takeo Chii, is a sort of anti-version of the typical noir hero. He is the villain and a beast, but his appearance is the epitome of cool. The audience’s sympathy lies with the man he is hunting. This character, who is given a notable amount of screentime during the second half, brings the more humane side into the movie.

Sawada’s film is not without flaws, but most of them are minor and don’t have much affect on the overall quality. The music for example features one or two misses, but works fine most of the time. The cinematography is impressive throughout. The way Sawada often uses long, handheld takes and brings the camera extremely close to the characters to achieve more depth feels ahead of its time. The film is typically short, 73 minutes, but it feels just about right. Somehow the director even manages to avoid the usual genre pitfall; hardly any of the running time is wasted on unnecessary sex scenes. What is found here, is mostly there for a reason.

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