The Shadow Within 影の車 (1970) – Japan
The settings, characters, and cinematography gracefully match the depth of storytelling. You remain on the edge of your seat, and enjoy all the tension.
The ending may leave you desiring a more substantial wrap-up, but, in the end, you're coming back to watch it more. It's a hard-knock life, being a boy.
Yoshitarō Nomura‘s The Shadow Within tackles themes on bourgeois living and loneliness, of insecure childhoods, and missed mixed messages for love. It suggests, with a simple affair premise, that pretty things cannot last. Relationships are only temporary. Boys will be boys, however nefarious.
It opens with whimsy and style, the plot sensually glossed. Like a porno, two attractive leads in rubbish situations meet by comical, convenient chance. They are to make love, you know immediately, but there the story changes. It’s not erotic at all, actually tender. The characters are polished, moreso than other romantical onscreen affairs. Their stories reflect desires greater than lust for skin, and the build up they share, of the relationship, is sincere.
The he is Keiko Hamajima, a successful travel agent, married for ten years. He dresses well. Eats and sleeps in a comfortable middle-class apartment, and smiles on cue when guests arrive. But he is troubled. No longer does he find the at-home life pleasurable. He knows his joy for tomorrows to have fizzled, and so too his wife’s.
The her is Yasuko Koiso, a childhood friend of Keiko’s, made a widow in recent years. She works in insurance, of door-to-door sales and collections. And though her work is demanding, it is small effort when compared to the mothering responsibilities she holds, of Ken, her six-year-old son.
And so it begins, when Keiko meets her for the first time in twenty or so years, that affair, on his bus home. She recognizes him first, and he finally feels revitalized, brought back to traditional living.
They are so wonderfully matched for one another. The care between them is warm.
The son finds Keiko instantly friend-like. The potential for love, for all the three, is high. Nomura emphasizes how traditional their living is, simplified and not so extravagant. Keiko prefers it this way. And then, it goes wrong.
Keiko is an acrobat when it comes to deceiving his wife. And that’s not the struggle. His wife Yukio doesn’t really care to suspect him of cheating. He is safe. Not one to be adulterous. He can’t even make her a baby.
And Yasuko is so very lonely. She just wants what is best for them all. The problem does not lie with her.
It’s too much for him so suddenly. The boy grows odd, with a perverted, protective behavior sprouting from a dark place inside. He kills the rats that fester around the house one day, and Keiko watches him torture a little one in a cage by the sea. He pretends it is drowning. And, of exhaustion, it does, bruised and made feeble. Keiko can’t help but relate with the vermin. He too is being beaten in a game. Things become scary.
Ken is holding knives and axes then, in unpredictable ways. The danger beams. There is fire in the boy’s eyes, and Keiko cannot help but feel he is responsible; can understand his pain. He remembers his days as a boy. Relates with Ken. His fear for his murder is now not so unreasonable. It’s only a matter of time.
Yoshitarô Nomura has cinematographer Takashi Kawamata explore the colorful. You wander a maze that is Keiko’s past, stylized in a crafted delusion, where the colors are exaggerated and the film grain is fuzzy. The palette is flattering in the present, and the staging carries well from Italian neorealism and French new wave techniques renewed. The shots are almost always still. Only once or twice is the camera moving. And your sense for dread is raised because of this quietness. It is silent just before there is pain.
It’s a story that is benefited by using simple points for conflict. You are afforded time to chew on scenes and discover the family’s progress and then decline. But, because the shots are dipped in rich blackness of shadows often and accompanied with inviting music, the expectations on a dark end are always on your mind. You see things coming, but can’t quite tell the details for significance until the film’s already finished. Then you can talk.
It’s the ending then where your mouth is left open. It’s not disappointing, but also it doesn’t quite satisfy. Cut short, this part is the most intriguing, when all this time we’ve enjoyed the entree; wanted more of all that chewing. The savoriness is somehow undone.
After some time has passed though, you’ll welcome that ending more, remember the journey in full scope. It fits Keiko’s and Ken’s obsession for a strong, lively woman in their lives best. It’s their fetish, to just make sure she is okay, so much so that you sympathize with their boyish fears and dumb maneuverings for the top.
The Shadow Within is horror in grand style then, but with power developed in its elements for suspense more. You’re always feeling terror in the characters’s chapters for happiness. They lived life so well for one time, brief though it may have been. It was bound to end just as abruptly.