This “review” will be very scattered because I’m not entirely sure what I just watched. Intention of Murder (1964) made by Shôhei Imamura is a 2.5 hour weird thrill ride filled with spouses cheating on each other, rape, stalking, violence, eating, trains, you name it. I really need to watch it again because I probably missed half the film because it was so dense.
Sadako is in a loveless marriage with Riichi, a librarian. She make money on the side (that she hides from her husband) by knitting. Their son, Masaru, is as sickly as his father. Both are weak and need to be cared for by Sadako. Sadako’s grandmother committed suicide 50 years ago and Sadako’s mother was a bar hostess. Sadako’s family for generations cared for Riichi’s family. I think they’re only together in the film because Riichi and Sadako had sex which led to Masaru. The sex may not have been totally consensual but there seems, at one point in the film, to be some love there, somewhat.
The film extensively uses sudden flashbacks and dream sequences that disrupt the narrative and add a surreal-ness to it. In one of the flashbacks, I believe when Sadako is first going to work for Riichi’s family, there’s a group of old women huddled around the tree and whispering about her (I think because there were no subtitles) and the house she is going to (where Sadako’s grandmother committed suicide), and the spooky things that need to be done there. They live in their superstitions. But this whispering comes back throughout the film.
Also littered throughout the film is the double standards, which are used to point out problems in Japan at that time (I think. A lot of this is speculation because I don’t really know much about 1960s Japan. Forgive me). Riichi is having an affair with a colleague from the library and does not seem to think about it morally. Sadako is raped and then somewhat stalked by her rapist who then claims that he loves her. Riichi’s mistress is trying to prove to Riichi that Sadako is cheating on him and that he should just move in with her because, why not? they’ve already been together for ten years and she had an abortion for him a while ago but wants a kid. I told you, this movie is wild and filled with this stuff. So! Riichi freaks out and is there slapping Sadako in front of Masaru while giving no thoughts to his own affairs. The earliest mention of these double standards is when Sadako is about to go to sleep early in the film and she begins to read. In the book she reads aloud, which seems like some kind of sociological study, she says something along the lines of why it is okay for men to smoke but it is not okay for women to smoke and the questions that are brought to light by this realization. But instead of going into it, she just goes to sleep. Maybe this is supposed to show she isn’t the smartest person? I really don’t know! I need to watch the film again!
Oh yeah, more about Sadako’s rapist. So he comes into her house at night, robs her, then rapes her, and it’s pretty brutal. It’s always interesting to see something in a film that makes you uncomfortable, which the director must have known would make you uncomfortable, so you’re being shown something uncomforting for a reason. Eventually, the rapist leaves and Sadako thinks about killing herself, as any honorable Japanese woman would do (something I think director Imamura was making fun of, the “Japanese code,” that is). But the rest of the film, he keeps following her and trying to talk to her. He says he loves her over and over again and tries to get her to run away with him to Tokyo. But then we learn he has heart problems and need his ampule when his heart decides to attack him. This Criterion essay pointed out that basically every man in the film is sick and kind of close to dying and are trying to control a perfectly healthy woman. Among other things, I’m using that Criterion essay a lot to just help me piece together what I just watched.
Let’s try to piece together this structure. I mentioned before that the film has flashbacks and dream sequences but it doesn’t rely on them. Honestly, you probably could take them out. But! I liked them. I do think they added more to the story, especially Riichi and Sadako’s background. Whatever, leave them in. I like a film that takes risks. Then the rest of the film seems… episodic? But it’s not really. The rapist scene happens ten minutes in and the story unfolds from there. There isn’t much of a conventional plot. It’s almost like a Tarantino film, in that way. I remember watching a Tarantino interview on Charlie Rose and he was talking about how American films at the time were very predictable. As in you could watch the first ten minutes and knew exactly what was going to happen because American films have been stuck in this storytelling rut. He then went on to say that foreign films at the time (around 1994) were great at introducing a story and letting it unfold in front of you, rather than very structured Catalyst On Page 10 American films. I’d put Intentions of Murder in the latter category. Yes, there is a plot, but also not really. We more just follow Sadako (more on that in a second) after she’s been raped and how it changes her life. Sadako slowly, slowly changes into the woman at the end of the film because of the seemingly loose story. But that seemingly loose story comes together. There’s zero way this film would have the ending it had if it had not created all these small characters tensions. For example, Riichi’s mistress follows Sadako and her rapist near the end of the film, thinking Sadako is cheating on Riichi. We know Sadako’s character motivation because we’re with her most of the film, we know the rapist’s motivation because he told Sadako, and we know Riichi’s mistress’ motivation because of what she told Riichi. I’m just now realizing how amazing this is. The seemingly plotless film built up these character tensions and motivations and allowed the last twenty-ish minutes to have the smallest amount of dialogue in the film, which holy shit, that’s so brilliant!!!
Also, I take back what I said about the flashbacks before, they definitely are needed to create the backstory of some of the things that happen later in the film. Sorry, it’s a long film and I’ve only watched it once and I just remembered how important the flashbacks are.
There are some crazy beautiful shots in this film. One that I’m still thinking about is when Sadako gets off a train and it suddenly starts snowing. And the fantastic combination of long takes with quick cuts. And the use of tripod shots with long dolly takes with handheld that makes sense. Man, this film was really thought out.
The more I write about this film, the more I like it and notice how amazing it is. I look forward to watching this again. This is total rule-breaking cinema. I wonder if anyone could get away with making a film like this today.