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  • Benjamin May

A-hômansu (1986) Review

Kaze is a drifter, walking stoically through life with no real purpose or direction in mind. He sleeps amid the homeless with no company but his motorcycle. A chance encounter with a gang of Yakuza- whom he effortlessly defeats in a street fight- brings him to the attention of their leader, Yamazaki. Yamazaki sees potential in Kaze, and soon the two men are working together. However, underneath Kaze's cold exterior and proficiency with hand-to-hand violence a mystery lies, one that is as unexpected as it is bizarre.

Yusaku Matsuda's 'A Homansu' is a strange, stylish, hit-and-miss action film with science-fiction elements that raises some interesting questions it doesn't have the time or inclination to answer. The story is fairly derivative, playing at times like a cyber-punk 'Yojimbo.' The generic action tropes within the film seem purposefully exaggerated, as if to make some ironic comment on the formulaic nature of a lot of 80's action movies. Kaze's sunglasses are bigger than Schwarzenegger's, he is quieter than Eastwood; he is more the Casanova than Stallone, Reynolds and Willis combined.

However, 'A Homansu' doesn't express that idea very eloquently or go far enough with it, and the point of the film- as well as what Matsuda was trying to say by making it- is vague at best. Is the film a parody, is it a straight action flick; or something in-between? It is with great difficulty that one defines this films' genre. That's not even to mention the ending, which seems deliberately abstruse and desultory. By the time the credits roll; some may be genuinely confused by the experience they just had watching the film.

This is not to say that 'A Homansu' isn't an entertaining or well-made movie; because it is. Tsutomu Imamura's production design is cold and sleek, making the world of the film look incredible; like 'Blade Runner' without the neon. It is a film that is rich in texture and atmosphere- a real visual feast. Under Matsuda's guidance, Seizô Sengen's restrained cinematography feels fluid and artistic, while also containing the sensibilities of film-noir. His manipulation of light and shadows is particularly spectacular; evocative of the best of Joseph LaShelle.

Isao Tomita's editing is intuitive and reserved. The film's pacing is like the main character Kaze: assured and methodical- some critics may even call it a little slow at times. The somewhat relaxed pace of 'A Homansu' allows tension and intrigue to propagate naturally, though; and the film is certainly full of intrigue. Had Matsuda's story and the themes therein been better defined in the writing stage; that intrigue and build up could have come to something.

As it is, the film builds up to a conclusion that is both out of left field and rather exasperating- all the more so because the cast perform admirably. Matsuda is aloof and steady as Kaze, delivering a performance that is unwavering in its' intensity. He is sinister, but not without humane qualities. Ryo Ishibashi co-stars as Yamazaki and is terrific, making the fellow not just charming beneath his cool gangster veneer, but a character of depth and mystery. The second feature Ishibashi appeared in, he all but steals the film with his memorable and impressive work.

Unfortunately, 'A Homansu' itself is something of a disjointed affair. Containing moments of brilliance in terms of visuals and performance, the story lets this one down. It is muddled, bordering on confusing; and ends with a twist that raises more questions than it answers. While it is not without entertainment value, it is by no means brilliant. It is the only film Yusaku Matsuda ever wrote or directed, which is unsurprising though unfortunate; as 'A Homansu' does have moments of magnificence.


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