Representations of the crime genre

1927, and Jiraika gumi ['Jiraika group'], 1927-8); Ito’s Chusingura ['The loyal forty-seven Ronin'], 1934) in the so-called jidaigeki, or period drama (Komatsu 1997). Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956) shot a number of detective stories at the earlier stages of his career. From 1924 to the early 1930s, the Japanese cinematography started to utilise the styles and methods of new European art cinemas. Partly it happened due to the introduction of sound techniques in 1927.

During the 1930s recreation of jidaigeki genre, Mansaku Itami made the film Yamiuchi tosei ['The life of a foul murderer'] (1932) and Tomu Uchida directed the sword-film Adauchi senshu ('The revenge champion'] (1931). These narratives can be compared to the European and American examples of the detective story and the ‘avenger’ type of the crime film. To put it in a nut shell, it seems that historically the Japanese cinematography was interested rather in human psychology and either social or realistically melodramatic plots than in the depiction of crimes.

In the later years, however, the South East Asian cinema began to assimilate the commercially successful features of the American and European films, including the crime plots. The films by Takeshi Kitano demonstrate that the genre entered the previously isolated national mentality. The history of the crime film in the United States and Great Britain is less ambiguous. Leitch (2002) looked for the historical origins of the crime films in literature and named Shakespeare's great villains Aaron the Moor, Richard III, King John, Iago, Edmund, and Macbeth as the oldest prototypes of criminal heroes.

The United States literary tradition also contributed to the development of the crime genre with Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland, or, The Transformation (1798); Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, (1857); Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842), and “The Purloined Letter” (1844). In cinematography, the first crime film was Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery (1903) (Rafter 2000; Leitch 2002). The fact that it was made and demonstrated the first time in the United States defined the further classification of the crime film as an American invention and know-how.

British critics and public have been classifying the crime genre as “felonious”, doomed to be “excluded from the canon of social realist cinema and imprisoned in the Gulag Britannia reserved for unrespectable elements of British film culture” (Chibnall and Murphy 1999, p. 1). The details of how national mentalities may affect the crime movies are discussed in the concluding sections after the analysis of thirteen movies by the American, British, and Japanese directors. The present chapter establishes a methodological framework for comparison of thirteen crime films belonging to different epochs and subgenres.

Seven films were made in the United States at different times:  William Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931); Raoul Walsh’s The Roaring Twenties (1939), and The White Heat (1949); Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990); Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994); Takeshi Kitano’s  Brother (2000), and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002). The director of Brother is of Japanese ancestry who prefers his native country for the shootings; the aforementioned film was Kitano’s first experiment in the American settings.

Five films were made by the British directors and in the British context: John Boulting’s Brighton Rock (1947); Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971); John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday (1980); Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000); and Paul McGuigan’s Gangster No. 1 (2000). The cluster of the South East Asia crime films is represented by Takeshi Kitano with Hana-bi (1997) and Brother (2000). At first glance, the task of comparing these heterogeneous representations of the crime genre might be resolved by taking their real and fictional geography as a point of reference.

Then, American films would be compared to British and South East Asian ones. However, in some movies the action takes place in several countries (e. g. , Sexy Beast [UK] – Spain and Great Britain; Brother [USA / UK / Japan] – Japan and USA). Though some features employed by directors may bear traces of national identity (Kitano’s films or Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday), the variable of geographic location proves to be inconsistent for the present analysis.

Another try could be made by comparing the films against the period of shooting. American gangster films The Public Enemy (1931) and The Roaring Twenties (1939) might be placed within the category of 1930s’ gangster films. However, there would be no other films to compare to, so far as the list of British films dates back to the late 1940s, and the countdown point for South East Asian crime cinematography in the present paper is delineated as late 1990s.

Upon testing the variables of geographical location and period as points of comparison, the researcher employed the film theory (Kracauer, 1960; Klarer, 2004; Rafter, 1999) to create a functional comparative framework. Siegfried Kracauer (1889, Frankfurt am Main, Germany – November 26, 1966, New York), a journalist, sociologist, and film critic, stressed that cinematography synthesised photography and non-photographic elements, editing and sound, to create “the vivid and lifelike reproduction […] of any transaction in real life" (Herschel 1860 cited Kracauer 1960, p.28).

The important feature of cinematography is its formative approach: “film makers have never confined themselves to exploring only physical reality in front of the camera but, from the outset, persistently tried to penetrate the realms of history and fantasy” (Kracauer 1960, p. 35). Kracauer (1960) named three revealing functions of cinematography: in the films a viewer can observe material phenomena which are normally ‘invisible’ (the objects which are too small or big to catch in reality; transient objects; and “the blind spots of the mind” [Kracauer 1960, pp.46-57]); “phenomena overwhelming consciousness” (e. g. , catastrophes, death, etc.

[Kracauer 1960, pp. 57-58]); and “special modes of reality” which present “physical reality as it appears to individuals in extreme states of mind […]” (Kracauer 1960, pp. 58-59). The aforesaid characteristics make a film differ from a literary piece. Nevertheless, both literature and cinematography share some common structural characteristics, such as plot and characters. These two elements seem to be valuable as points of comparison within the framework of the present dissertation.