Shinoda Masahiro | Pale Flower

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Shinoda Masahiro

Shinoda Masahiro is a prolific Japanese film director.

Pale Flower

Pale Flower (1964) is basically a mood piece, notable for its spectacular visual style. It centers on a mob hit man for the Yakuza, and an interval in his life between two killings, when he is hanging out with other underworld types in Tokyo.


Shinoda often shoots through grids and screens, in a manner recalling Max Ophuls. And he loves elaborate backgrounds in his walls. These sometimes include wall paintings, in the tradition of Josef von Sternberg. He also likes geometric patterns on the walls, often irregular, made up of an eclectic group of objects: curtains with regular folds, glass brick panels, checkerboard designs, etc.

Shinoda also at one point shoots against a large irregular color field on a wall (in black and white). This echoes Michelangelo Antonioni, and still photographers of the era, who used found imagery to evoke Abstract Expressionist painting.

Influence of Fritz Lang and Film Noir

Much of the visual style echoes film noir in general, and Fritz Lang in particular.

Lang-like imagery includes many shots of clocks and staircases. During the climactic murder, the hero ascends a staircase, and we see an overhead shot of the stairs, in the best tradition of Lang's M and much film noir. By contrast, there are few if any mirror shots in the film, a Lang tradition avoided here.

We see a revolving spiral behind the hero at one point. This recalls the spirals in Lang's M and Fury. Later on, there will be another moving neon sign behind the hero, this one going up and down. This is one of many echo or doubling of images throughout Pale Flower.

Shinoda likes to shoot through windows, doorways, openings in grids and panels, etc, in his interiors. This gives a window within the screen effect. Lang used this a good deal in Spione.

There are many scenes in the film of a gambling board. It is a large white space on the floor, in which players arrange game tiles or piles of cash. These tiles and paper money are arranged in rectilinear geometric patterns that recall the painter Mondrian. Such rectilinear patterns immediately suggest Ozu, in the context of Japanese cinema. But they also recall Lang's regular geometric arrays of large numbers of objects, such as are seen in M, You and Me or An American Guerrilla in the Philippines.


Shinoda echoes these gambling shots with street scenes, in which the central narrow area of the street echoes the white gambling board, and the buildings around both sides recall the gamblers seated around the playing board.

Later, we get an even wittier and stranger echo. A maternity ward show a series of babies in incubators, all arranged around a central long white area between them. Life, even at its very start at birth, Shinoda is suggesting, is just like the game of chance played by the adults in the movie. It is very funny - and visually striking.

There are other geometric images throughout the film that are less Lang-like. The first shots shows the inverted V roof of a train station. Later, the hero will wait in front of a building that has a whole series of V-shaped roofs and door tops. (Is this building some sort of temple?) The V's all have wide angles near 180 degrees. Another echo: The gambling hall is filled with diagonals, also nearly on the horizontal, like the V's.

Many of the interiors are filled with small circles. Shinoda produces these not just with Lang-like clock dials, but with lamps, the heroine's hat, and many other objects. They are a recurrent motif in the visual style. The final murder combines the staircase with the spherical globes of a hanging lamp fixture, to make a unique set of compositions.

Another echo is aural. One of the women lives in a clock shop, and we hear the ticking of countless clocks. Later, at a gambling hall, we hear the players all shuffling their individual collections of tiles. This makes an odd sort of aural pun on the earlier sound. Shinoda displays a Bresson-like interest in sound design in these scenes.

A Silent Scene with Music

The final murder is shot silent, and shown against an aural background of an excerpt from an opera. This is Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689?). Purcell was English; his opera is in English; and it is sung in English here. We hear the great climactic lament, "When I am laid in Earth", which makes a powerfully mournful and dream-like feel for the killing. This is more a hallucinatory, somnambulistic nightmare than some sort of thrill-kill. When the killing is over, Shinoda has this vocal solo segue with precision into the choral epilogue in the opera, "With drooping wings". This recalls Hitchcock's similar precision with ending the vocal part of the song Drummer Man at the exact moment the singer disappears from the great overhead traveling shot in Young and Innocent.