The Sociopath’s Playbook

The Japanese film poster for THE BEAST SHALL DIE (1959), directed by Eizo Sugawa.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a sociopath is a person who has a personality disorder which causes them to behave in an aggressive, violent or unpleasant way towards other people. The general opinion among psychiatrists is that sociopaths are not born that way, which is usually the case with psychopaths. Instead, sociopaths are shaped by their environment and experiences. A classic example of this is profiled in Eizo Sugawa’s Yaju Shisubeshi (English title: The Beast Shall Die). The protagonist of this 1959 psychological thriller is Date Kunihiko (Tatsuya Nakadai), a quiet, well-mannered graduate student who is exceptionally gifted as a writer and athlete. Behind his benign façade, however, is a cunning sociopath with a plan that slowly reveals itself as the film unfolds. As portrayed by Nakadai, Date is a truly chilling figure and one of his least known but most potent early performances. It deserves to be included with his more celebrated work in such Japanese masterpieces as Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959-1961), Kihachi Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom (1966) and numerous collaborations with Akira Kurosawa such as Sanjuro (1962), High and Low (1963) and Kagemusha (1980).

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Identity Disintegration

A wealthy chemist who was disfigured in an explosion undergoes plastic surgery in the 1966 Japanese film, The Face of Another.

What would happen if you lost the face you recognize as your own and had to replace it with a new one? Would you have an identity crisis or simply become a different person? Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara ponders this unusual dilemma in The Face of Another (1966, Japanese title: Tanin no kao). Continue reading

The Age of Assassins (1967)

A paranoid conspiracy thriller delivered in a droll tongue-in-cheek style with generous helpings of black comedy and anti-establishment satire doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre and Kihachi Okamoto’s The Age of Assassins (1967 aka Epoch of Murder Madness; Japanese title: Satsujin Kyojidai) was generally dismissed by critics and avoided by audiences when it was first released in the late sixties. Like many of Okamoto’s films, it didn’t receive theatrical distribution outside of its own country and that’s a shame because the film has the essential goods to become a bona fide cult classic on the order of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967) or Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (1968). The Age of Assassins arrived at the tail end of the secret agent craze but it is not really a James Bond parody. Think of it instead as a crazy quilt journey through an off-kilter, pop culture universe where no one is who they appear to be.   Continue reading