Film Reviews

A Fugitive from the Past (1965) – Blu-ray Review

The past coming back to haunt us is a familiar narrative trope but rarely has it been used so exceptionally as in Tomu Uchida’s 1965 detective potboiler A Fugitive from the Past, now here in a wonderful new restoration from Arrow Video.

Based on the novel by Tsutomu Mizukami and known in Japan as Kiga kaikyōA Fugitive from the Past begins with three men escaping a burning building they just robbed as a huge storm hits Hokkaido in Japan and overturns a passenger ferry. The men use the chaos and the rescue attempt to steal a lifeboat and escape in the water; however, Police soon find the wrecked boat and two dead bodies, badly beaten to death. As they search the surrounding area, the survivor, Inukai (Rentaro Mikuni), finds help from Yae (Sachiko Hidari), a small-town prostitute who quickly falls for him. Ten years later, however, Yae’s dead body is found after a visit to a powerful businessman, and while the case is initially believed to be suicide, circumstances soon reveal themselves to be something much more malevolent.

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Uchida’s film is a masterpiece. It’s brilliantly constructed and zooms along despite being over three hours, with a concentrated mixture of tension and intrigue from the protagonist and the web of lies – and truths – he has created. It’s a very human story, with Inukai’s initial appearance as a criminal with a heart of gold until it’s revealed that he is something a lot more complex. Yae’s too, her life dedicated to finding Inukai, only to end up dead as a consequence of his guilt. Then there’s the arc of the detective Yumisaka (Junzaburo Ban) who initially investigated the crime and who had to wait a decade for a resolution.

A surprising development is the way it leaves judgement open for Inukai, insinuating that this is not just a simple case and that there are socio-political reasons for Inukai to end up where he is. These reasons are still unfortunately relevant today, as well as issues of power and corrupting wealth. It almost asks you what you would do if you had the ability to escape from a desperate situation you were in that was the cause of overriding social issues. What would it take for you to get out? And what would you do to protect it once you did?

A Fugitive from the Past was filmed in black and white scope, and the grit and texture of the cinematography by Hanjirô Nakazawa is very much in tune with the thematic tone of the film, along with a haunting score by electronic genius Isao Tomita. The acting is fantastic. Mikuni gives a towering central performance of vulnerability and desperation, while Ban’s detective is one of authority but also compassion, even when mixed with anger.

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Arrow has presented the film – for the first time in the West outside of film festivals – with a lovely and deep transfer at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The audio is powerful and impactful, and it’s a great presentation of the picture. The bonus features are also fascinating. There’s a filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert and author Jasper Sharp, several video essays that take the form of scenes from the film with commentary by Japanese film scholars Aaron Gerow, Irene González-López, Erik Homenick, Earl Jackson, Daisuke Miyao and Alexander Zahlten. There’s also a theatrical trailer, an image gallery, and new writing on the film in the booklet, although this was not made available for review.

We have to be thankful to Arrow for making films like A Fugitive from the Past available to us. It’s an absolute corker, a masterful picture thematically and technically, and they’ve done a great job bringing it to us. More, please.

A Fugitive from the Past is out on Blu-ray on 26th September from Arrow Video.


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