[Written for Mr. Showbiz]
Given world enough and time, Jim Thompson the pulp Camus (The Getaway, After Dark My Sweet) would have got round to writing about a poor Thompsonian schlub in Hokkaido, in the snowy north of Japan. Meanwhile, the protagonist of Masahiro Kobayashi’s Film Noir will do. He lost his job a while ago but, instead of admitting it to his wife, has been leaving their nifty A-frame every morning and pretending to drive off to work. Real destination: a mini–Las Vegas at a nearby mall, where he sits all day playing pachinko and hoping to win enough to keep them afloat. One day the place is unexpectedly closed. As our hero sits in his car trying to decide what else to do with his life, a spooky loner appears out of nowhere and makes him an offer. Why not turn hitman? Here’s a guy’s picture, here’s a gun, here’s even a set of instructional videos to get you started….
The videos, as it happens, are Jean-Pierre Melville movies, and Kobayashi’s film is dedicated to the auteur of Le Samouraï, Bob le Flambeur, et al. Kobayashi himself isn’t in that league, but he has a clean eye for absurdist compositions and gets some lustrous effects, especially with startling washes of color, amid the blue-white snowfields and always empty landscape. Mostly the tone of his storytelling is lighter than either Melville or Thompson would have appreciated; indeed, much of Film Noir plays less like its namesake and more as a comedy. Still, the movie’s metaphor for bourgeois frustration and the hopelessness of escape is an honorable addition to noir’s glossary of despair.