Real-life former Yakuza head Noboru Ando stars in this very interesting film which depicts the effects of World War II in Japan and one man who just wants to do the right thing.
Dr. Amamiya is a kind-hearted man who is contemplating a transfer when all of a sudden, a patient comes in. Amamiya thinks about having the patient transferred to another hospital but learning the victim will not survive the transport, he looks and recognizes him. Suddenly, Amimaya begins to reminisce about his one-time friend Choi, who is the man who he must attempt to save.
In 1948, three years after the end of World War II, the Nine Heavens League, a Korean gangster unit, is moving in on a local town in Japan. Led by Yoo Seung-Won, the intend to take over the land run by Amimaya. When Yoo and the gang begin to harass local store owners and townsfolk, one man suggests that they go to Amimaya. However, at first, Amimaya refuses to help. Things soon go too far and with the police scared into doing anything, the usually pacifist Amimaya soon must make a choice that could change his fate forever when his younger brother gets involved.
This film, from writer-director Tai Kato, is quite interesting in its disclaimer that the film is an attempt to bring a sense of peace during post-World War II. The film melds the present day with the past all in part to the central character of Dr. Amimaya learning that the man he must now take care of is a face from the past. This leads to a series of flashbacks where the two know each other as far back as the war itself, which is the only scene in the film shown in black and white rather than the vibrant colors the rest of the film conveys. The film also goes by the title A Man’s Face Shows His Personal History.
In what is only his second film, former Yakuza gang boss Noboru Ando brings his former tough guy image to a pacifist character in Dr. Amamiya. Amamiya is the type of guy who can be tough only when he needs to be, not because he wants to. He tends to mind his own business even when he wants to be forced to selling his land to the gangsters. And yes folks, the scar on his face is actually a real scar he sustained during his days as a high ranking gangster and mob boss, which would ultimately lead to his imprisonment and dissolution of his gang before he began his film career.
The film has an on-off relationship between Koreans and Japanese. The off-part comes in the form of the film’s villains, who are a Korean gangster unit who because of the fact they know Japan lost the war, have the notion they can wreak all sorts of havoc on the Japanese village where Amimaya lives. Even though the villains are Korean, they speak only Japanese in the film, which at the time can be said to be acceptable. The leader of the gangsters is played by future film director Juzo Itami while a future action star in his own right, Bunta Sugawara, plays a very high strung member of the gang who thrives on getting drunk and living on violence.
The on-part of the Korean-Japanese relations comes in the form of Korean gangster Choi Mun-Gye, who is actually a Korean-born Japanese who is our catalyst for Amimaya reminiscing his past. When the duo were on the battlefields, Choi was known at the time as Shibata. However, when the war ended, Shibata accepted his Korean heritage and found himself a part of the gang. Yet, he still has some respect for Amimaya and helps him in his greatest time of need, which leads to one of the most dangerous choices the pacifist must make. Another factor comes in the form of Amimaya’s brother Shunji, who despite making efforts to get rid of the gang, finds himself smitten with another Japanese-born Korean, Gye Hye-Chun. It is their relationship that may not play a major factor in the film, but proves to be pivotal.
By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him is a pretty good film that showcases the acting talent of Noboru Ando, who was once a tough guy and plays more of a pacifist who only goes the tough guy route when needed. A really good film on post-War relations from director Tai Kato.
WFG RATING: A-
A Shochiku Eiga production. Director: Tai Kato. Producer: Yoshitoshi Masumoto. Writers: Seiji Hoshikawa and Tai Kato. Cinematography: Tetsuo Takaha. Editing: Iwao Ishii.
Cast: Noboru Ando, Kanjuro Arashi, Torahiko Hamada, Yoshiko Kayama, Akemi Mari, Juzo Itami, Bunta Sugiwara.