Synopsis. Pale Flower is a 1964 Japanese noir film directed by Masahiro Shinoda. It focuses on Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) a gang hitman just released from jail. At loose ends after his release, he goes to an old haunt, an illegal gambling parlor. There he sees and is pulled to a mysterious young woman named Saeko (Mariko Kaga). Saeko notices Muraki too. They pass time together exploring their mutual love of gambling.
More Detail. On the surface, this film is deceptively simple. Muraki and Saeko are bored, lonely souls, that gamble together. But there is much below the surface. Muraki is released from prison after 3 years for murdering a man he was ordered to kill. Muraki believes the victim deserved to die because he was ordered to kill him. Muraki admits that killing this man made him feel more alive than he had ever felt. Saeko is a young rich bored woman that boldly enters the all man world of gambling. She is not that good of a gambler but it does not matter, she seeks the thrill of gambling. To amp up herself up, Saeko drives fast and eventually tries drugs. Muraki is fine with Saeko gambling and facilitates high stakes games. But once she is drawn to other elements he becomes concerned but distant. This is not a heart warming relationship. Muraki and Saeko are not heart warming people. Do they get over their personal demons and get together? Does their relationship stand the test of time?
What I Liked about Pale Flower:
Muraki portrayed by Ryo Ikebe, was cool, calm and collected. This guy had a devil may care vibe, but in a subtle way. He watched life. He was a loyal hitman to a boss that seemed simply ordinary. Muaraki only wanted relationships to go as far as he was comfortable with…he controlled his primary relationships. But Saeko was independent and impervious to Muraki’s control tactics. Ah, the lure of the unobtainable Saeko was like catnip to Muraki. He enjoyed the thrill of gambling. But the biggest thrill of all was when he killed a man. He had no regrets about murder and relished the memories. Did I mention he was not heart warming?
Saeko portrayed by Mariko Kaga was a thrill junkie. Gambling, fast cars, and eventually drugs, fed her need for excitement to feel alive. Muaraki fascinated her. His profession, his implacable calm, these were foreign and intriguing. I loved that she was the only woman that gambled. Every man in the room was riveted by the fact that she was a woman AND beautiful AND a bold gambler. In effect, she was a breath of fresh air in the world of illegal gambling. Mariko Kaga gave Saeko the auroa of a rich, bored, young woman willing to seek thrills for the sake of amping up her life. Her choices were not always smart. She had an edge of crazy for these thrills.
The vibe of this film was slow but not…simple but not…cool characters that simmered just below the surface. The cinematographer, Masao Kosugi, shot the movie in black and white with shadowed lighting. The director, Masahiro Shinoda, had a vision of this lonely twosome that drove this film. I never understood the gambling games, and there were a lot of gambling scenes, but I did not need to understand, the feel of the game was all that mattered.
What I Did Not Like about Pale Flower:
This film has been highly rated but it is a one-time view for me. These characters were so cool that I never was drawn to them. I watched this film but I was not captured by the story or the characters. I appreciated the beauty of the film, the effective portrayal of these cool characters, and the vision the director had for this story. At 96 minutes it is not long and not boring. However in the end I felt more impassive than intrigued.
Not sure I would recommend this film. If you like noir, if you like characters with walls around themselves, then watch this film. I was not bored when I watched Pale Flower…but that’s the problem…I watched Pale Flower…I did not feel Pale Flower.