National Crime Identities

The political crime movie (Alan J. Pakula’s All the President's Men, 1976; Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae, 1979; James Bridges’s The China Syndrome, 1979) received proliferation at this stage.

The new themes – women’s and civil rights, political apathy of ruling circles and police, social oppression and drug abuse – emerged on the screen in the criminal films of the new wave (Brian De Palma's Scarface, 1983; Luis Valdez’s La Bamba, 1987; Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats, 1991; Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, 1990, and Casino, 1995; Lili Fini Zanuck’s Rush, 1991; Carl Franklin’s One False Move, 1991; Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, 1992; John Badham’s Point of No Return, 1993; Julian Schnabel ‘s Basquiat, 1996; Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, 1997 ; Costa-Gavras’ Missing, 1982 ; Mike Nichols’ Silkwood, 1983 ; Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out, 1987; John Sayles’ Matewan, 1987 ; Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father, 1993 [UK/Ireland]). The last two decades of the 20th century have produced a bunch of films contradictory in their portrayal of the criminals-police relationships (Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, 1991; Michael Mann’s Heat, 1995) and neo-noir violent eroticism (Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct, 1992; Uli Edel’s Body of Evidence, 1993 [Germany/USA]).

They prophesised a postmodern renewal of the classic gangster film (Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, 1991; Pulp Fiction, 1994), unofficial detective (Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress, 1995), and innocent-man-on-the-run subgenre (Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive, 1993). Besides, the criminal genre adapted itself to the contemporary social settings of young, urban, African-American street gangs (Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, 1989; Summer of Sam, 1999; Mario Van Peebles’ New Jack City, 1991, John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, 1991; and Ernest Dickerson’s Bulletproof, 1998, and Ambushed, 1998). Among the subgenres of the epoch, Leitch (2002) also listed commercially successful action comedies with Eddie Murphy (48 Hrs., 1982; Another 48 Hrs. , 1990; Beverly Hills Cop, 1984, its sequels, 1987, 1994), the ones with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.

(Lethal Weapon, 1987, and its three sequels, 1989–98), farcical Police Academy films (1984–94), and ironic crime comedies (John Herzfeld’s 2 Days in the Valley, 1996; Todd Solondz’s Happiness, 1998, Doug Liman’s Go, 1999 – USA; Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty, 2000 – Germany/USA; Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, 1999 – UK). There was a separate class of ambivalent films such as the postmodern fables of David Lynch (Blue Velvet, 1986), Joel and Ethan Coen (Blood Simple, 1984), and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, 1991).

Leitch (2002) also mentioned the legal criminal thrillers which continued to fascinate the public (John Grisham's The Firm, 1989). Judging from the list of the criminal films that have been made in the last decades, the generic patterns tend to become eclectic, synthetic and flexible. In 2003, Shadoian (2003, p. 13) stated that the crime genre “continues potent, but where it's coming from and how it goes about its business is a freewheeling, hit-and-run, different-each-time affair that lacks the expected presence and distribution of generic traits”. The present dissertation deals with three geographical and cultural areas where criminal films are produced.

The most part of film critics cite American films as models of the crime genre (Rafter 2000; Leitch 2002; Shadoian 2003) with some interceptions of European cinematography. Unfortunately, there is little independent research on the sources and development of the crime genre in the South East Asia region. It should be stressed here that the aforesaid chronology of the crime film is developed in regard to the American and European cinematography. The South East Asia countries are remarkable for their original evolvement in regard to cinema art. In Japan, the first silent films appeared in 1898-9 (Komatsu 1997). They relied on the traditions of the kabuki and Noh theatre.

Despite the shooting of dramas with contemporary subjects [Shinpa], as well as comedies, trick films, sceneries, and travelogues – the genres well-known for the European and American viewer – “similarities with western cinema were superficial, and Japanese films preserved a unique flavour throughout the 1910s” (Komatsu “Japan: Before the Great Kanto Earthquake” 1997, p. 178). There were two types of originally Japanese movies: Shinpa (New School) films which “dealt with contemporary subjects, often adapted from newspaper serials or foreign fiction, in a melodramatic style” (Komatsu 1997, p. 178), and Kyuha (Old School) films referring to histories of samurais.

Besides there was the rensageki, or chain drama, “a combination of stage play and cinema using films for the scenes that were difficult to represent live on the stage” (Komatsu 1997, p. 178). In Japan, the first Americanised film – The Amateur Club [Kisaburo Kuri hara] was produced by Kurihara in 1920 and featured the unusual for the national mentality scenes with “bathing beauties, chase scenes, slapstick” (Komatsu 1997, p. 181). The crime plots are traced back to the 1920s. Director Suzuki shot the four-reel Ningen-ku ['Anguish of a human being'] (1923) narrating about a rich man, who ran bankrupt and committed suicide after killing his wife.

Some of the film features – “a grim mise-en-scene of rainy streets, gas lamps, flowing muddy water, and dilapidated buildings” (Komatsu 1997, p. 182) – prophesised the emergence of the film noir that became popular in Europe in the late 1940s. One of the pioneer directors, Daisuke Ito (1898-1981), shot the film Oatsurae Jirokichi goshi ('The chivalrous robber Jirokichi', 1931) that is considered to be almost the first crime movie in the Japanese context. Whereas the American crime movie concentrated on that period’s burning issues of big heists and western adventures, and the European cinema explored the psychological underlining of mysterious crimes, the Japanese cinematography turned to the samurai past (Tomiyasu Ikeda’s Sonno joi ['Revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians'], ]