Violence at High Noon
Genre: Existential Drama (Extreme)
review in one breath
"Love is incapable of changing anyone."
Director Nagisa Oshima's movies often are portrayals of intense love relationships and the social alienation caused by them. His earlier Cruel Story of Youth (1960) and the later In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and In the Realm of the Passions (1978) are of this sort. All three of these tales involve the violent clash of innate passion with societal convention, usually ending in the "triumph" of social convention and a sad demise for the couple. Violence at High Noon is a variation of this same theme, though here the tension exists between human passion and sheer human evil. Our characters are pitted against themselves rather than against society, and the human soul is portrayed as the source of great harm rather than apathetic collective convention.
NOTE: This is a reprint of a very early review. As such, it divulges far more spoilers that it ought. Please proceed with caution!
Violence at High Noon is a complex tale involving several flashbacks through which we gradually come to understand the tragedies of the movie's opening scenes. The movie starts with such a seemingly violent heave that I thought I may be in for a shock fest. While the woman Shino goes about her duties as a hired housekeeper, a rough looking man, Eisuke, peers at her wantonly through the window. After sneaking into the house and confronting Shino, it becomes clear that their past involves intimacies which Shino would rather forget. Rejecting his advances, he binds and gags her and carries her upstairs to a quiet room where he strangles her unconscious and begins to molest her. In unconsciousness, we are privy to Shino's memory of an attempted double suicide by hanging in which she survives only through the weakness of the rope which snaps, dropping her unconscious body to the forest floor. Eisuke is present in the memory as well and finding her lying unconscious cannot restrain himself, raping Shino as she lay there. As Shino awakes, she finds that she is still alive while her lover has successfully hanged himself. She also find Eisuke by her side claiming he had saved her from death. Though she soon realizes he has raped her while unconscious, Eisuke's duplicitous role as both savior and rapist results in Shino both appreciation and revulsion between herself as victim and Eisuke as attacker.
When this dream fades and she regains consciousness, the police are there and inform her that her abductor was apparently interrupted by the lady of the house, whom he attacked and murdered. The police chief considers this the work of the "phantom killer" whose recent victims are numerous and whose pattern of attack is always the same. Realizing now that Eisuke is the phantom killer, Shino provides some information to the police about him, but not enough to identify him. Instead, she begins writing to Eisuke's wife, Matsuko, whom she also apparently knows from the past, informing her that Eisuke is a serial murderer and urging her to turn Eisuke in to the authorities. It becomes apparent that Matsuko has been fully aware of Eisuke's pathological activities but is unwilling to "lose" him to the police in a pitiful dependence upon his love and attention.
What follows is an interwined series of the current police pursuit of Eisuke and flashbacks of the past in which the mysterious relation among Shino, Matsuko and Eisuke is gradually revealed. We learn that these three, along with Genji, an up and coming local politician, were all members of a collective farm wiped out by a flood. Through the crisis and the task of rebuilding Genji becomes drawn to the industriousness of Shino, while Matsuko begins harboring hidden love for the unruly machismo of Eisuke. The relation of Genji and Shino begins to blossom but Genji is soon overcome with depair and loneliness, despite his political popularity, and informs Shino that he will commit suicide, suggesting that as a testimony to their love, Shino should join him in a double suicide. This leads to the scene of Shino's earlier memory in which her rope snaps while Genji's holds fast, and the subsequent rape by Eisuke. On the day of Genji's funeral Eisuke attacks and rapes Matsuko, who out of shame begs Eisuke to marry her. Eisuke simply and coldly replies, "You can marry me if you like".
This brings us to the present malaise in which both Shino and Matsuko are fully aware that Eisuke is a "criminal beast" and yet find themselves hesitant of orchestrating his arrest. The two finally decide to turn Eisuke in to the police by providing them with his photograph. However, reflecting on their past humiliation and intertwined fate, the two women decide to commit double suicide, a ritual normally reserved for lovers. After trekking back to the scene of Shino's earlier suicide attempt, the two ingest poison and fall into unconsciousness. Due to her portliness and an earlier heavy lunch, Shino awakens, vomiting up the poison. Next to her lay the dead body of Matsuko. The movie ends with Shino carrying the body of Matsuko down the mountain as the town's loud speakers announce the arrest a local man, Eisuke, as the phantom killer linked to a series of 35 crimes.