Stakeout 張込み (1958) – Japan
The camera cranes and the performances shake and jitter with life. The story is strong.
The script has been bettered in later works by other directors since its release. The run-time is excessive.
Yoshitarō Nomura‘s Stakeout investigates uber voyeurism, refining Hitchcock‘s Rear Window of 1954, and mastering a grim, restrictive ambience of sleuth work onscreen, that Akira Kurosawa would better in 1963 with High and Low. The two detectives are honest men, with problems of their own, and their case, to watch a woman connected to a criminal, forces them to reflect on solo living. Then, the question is posed: do you make risky decisions or submit your life to others with power?
Its run-time is long, but the premise is joined by enough style to keep you watching for character reveals, with the leads drenched in sweat and the sets in black.
Officer Yuki and Sergeant Shimooka receive a murder case at a pawn shop in Tokyo. The killer is found, but his accomplice with the gun has fled. The killer says he is an unstable man, one who could harm others now with a gun in his possession. He went in search of a lost lover, from years ago, and she resides in rural Japan, now married to a business exec, with kids from his previous marriage. This could set dangers in motion if this criminal comes close, and the police must act quickly. In order to find the weapon and stop the runaway criminal, the two detectives must board a train and travel a great distance to find him around her faraway town, to observe her, for hours and days.
Nomura focuses on the gentle throughout the film, though the music and quick cuts suggest it is all action. The detectives, especially Yuki, grow fond of the wife watched, when they are up above, in an inn across from her home, pressed against the balcony door, peeping from its narrow gap.
It’s sad to watch her when the detectives reduce her to simple routines. She’s not the exciting woman they or you imagined. Just trapped and actually ordinary.
The younger detective, Yuki, sympathizes with her. She is not so different from a woman he has at home waiting for him, and he feels he has too often neglected her, with his complicated dilemma of choice. And you’re in between times. It cuts back and forth, from the present into the past.These cuts occur so swiftly, so smoothly, that you just might miss the significance, or that they even happened. At once you’re following the detectives into the rural town, watching them scope her home and enter the inn across the street, and then, so suddenly, you’re in Sergeant Shimooka’s Tokyo home from days ago, where and when they first receive the call for the pawn shop shooting. These details are important, but fade with haste. It’s confusing.
You return then to the rural, with interest now, because the camera movements are mostly craned, reflecting slower differences from the scenes in Tokyo, dipping from the detectives’ second story place in the inn to the wife’s lowly chores-on-the-ground one. They’re grand motions. Jittery, and so different from what you’d expect. Twitchy, from surveillance.
Only rarely, when the shots change to dolly tracking, are you more entranced than with the cranes. You’re watching characters run, and the shots slide. To catch up.
The neighborhood that was at first limp and slugging is lively and inviting. You forget Tokyo from before; you prefer this slower place.
The final twenty minutes wrap up neatly, and you care the most for Yuki and his predicaments. At first with him watching the wife and learning of her endeavors. Then with his home problems. Shimooka is a strong leader though, who keeps him on the task, not distracted. But he isn’t always with Yuki.
The last act has you doubting whether he will obey his sergeant, to do the police’s duty, or act out on something else. He has learned enough and made a decision, an impulse, but you don’t know what he will act out on. His mood leading to this point prevents this.
Their performances, of Minoru Ôki for Yuki, and Seiji Miyaguchi for Shimooka, control the narrative, with sturdy stares and cool staging. They make the stakeout scenes fun to follow as the risks increase, such as events with the innkeepers. They grow suspicious of their odd, surveillance guests and call the cops, who then investigate.
And it’s all hot. They glisten in sweat, all of the characters; the film shimmers.Only a few characters make it far enough to feel cool shade again, and it’s best that way.
Though the characters say a great many things, and the situations unfold with loud noises, the unspoken events are the most interesting, very suspenseful. And the perspective of those detectives’ point, from that room on top, is enough to keep the whole of the work unsettling, them with the power and the woman left a servant to men, again. She wants what the cops and you, and all want: to feel, just for a second, like life is in your control, something to hold and bend for favor. When, in fact, we’re just cruising through this life, vulnerable to someone else’s vision and criticism, in his hands, squished by the thumb.