Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Action director Kinji Fukasaku reinvented his career a number of times, bouncing back with
different kinds of Yakuza pictures and strange movies about alienated, violent youth. Although
he reached out internationally with the juvenile science fiction tales The Green Slime
and Message from Space, he maintained his place at the forefront of Japanese pop
trends. In the early 1980s he initiated a series of more romantically based films aimed
to reach out to female fans. Fall Guy (Kamata koshin-kyoku) is a serio-comedy
about a stuntman that features a female star as its central character.
Nice-guy bit player Yasu (Mitsuru Hirata) is so loyal to his benefactor,
obnoxious and narcissistic star Ginshiro (Morio Kazama) that he agrees to marry Ginshiro's pregnant,
cast-off girlfriend Konatsu (Keiko Matsuzaka). Has-been actress Konatsu is humiliated
but begins to appreciate Yasu's kindness and loyalty, especially when he works himself half to death
in dangerous stunts to provide for her, and helps her regain face by
proudly bringing her home to his mother in the country. But the vain Ginshiro keeps making return
passes at his ex-girlfriend. Fearing that his star is fading as well, Ginshiro talks Yasu into
performing a near-suicidal stunt that he thinks will bolster his popularity.
Unlike many Japanese comedies, Fall Guy is highly accessible to American audiences. It's
a behind-the-scenes movieland farce about insufferably vain actors and their sycophantic
retainers; Morio Kazama's spoiled peacock of an action star will do anything to get an extra
close-up and treats those around him like dirt. The stylized script invents its own exaggerated
version of movie life, with bickering technicians, executives in suits and an army of underpaid
actors that get sliced up with samurai swords in overplayed action scenes.
The comedy is sometimes on the coarse side, but Fukasaku employs a sentimental hook that's
hard to resist. In the first scene, the despairing Konatsu is more or less raped by the
abusive star Ginshiro right in Yasu's tiny apartment. The caste system being what it is, Yasu
is expected to dutifully approve of whatever awful behavior Ginshiro comes up with, which
is plenty. After their legal marriage, there follows an enormously entertaining sequence
in which Yasu volunteers for stunt after dangerous stunt, earning a reputation for doing
anything risky as long as there's a paycheck in it.
After all the nasty and grim violence
in Fukasaku's yakuza movies, the excellently directed comic mayhem is a lot of fun. Yasu
changes his makeup and costume so quickly that he can volunteer to be more than one
swordplay victim in the same scene.
Amusing actor Mitsiru Hirata is an excellent clown, reeling from injuries and rushing back
for more punishment. But his character also builds a serious dimension as Fall Guy
realigns itself to the pregnant Konatsu's point-of-view. The scenes at home with Yasu's
mother are quite affecting, and Yasu's later crisis of confidence - he has a hard time
believing that Konatsu respects him - successfully deepens the drama.
The ending is a little more perplexing. Yasu volunteers to do the certain-death staircase
fall and becomes the center of attention. It's more than a little similar to the Richard
Rush film The Stunt Man, a probable inspiration. With the entire crew waiting upon
him Yasu becomes as domineering and abusive as Ginshiro, and for a moment we don't know
where the picture is going. As it is, everything ends on a giddy note, with the cast singing
the studio song over the end credits.
The beautiful Keiko Matsuzaka carries her role with elegance, especially after the
rape scene. She's a nice contrast with the spoiled brat Tomoko (Chika Takami), one
of Ginshiro's momentary flings. The script makes some good statements about the Japanese
system of status hierarchy. The Ginshiros of the company get to run wild without consequences
while the lowly Yasus must grovel and abase themselves to stay employed. Yasu is always
resorting to exaggerated rationalizations to maintain his personal dignity.
Martial arts fans will be interested to see Sonny Chiba as an actor in the film-within-a-film
Home Vision's DVD of Fall Guy is a perfect enhanced transfer of Fukasaku's colorful,
fast-paced sentimental comedy. Masato Kai's bouncy music score hasn't dated and to Western
eyes the film will look as if it were brand new.
Sadao Yamane is featured in an informative interview docu, explaining many of the details
of the production context that wouldn't be apparent to fans unfamiliar with the Japanese
movie industry. The trailer is a cute and smart teaser that plays almost like a Jean-Luc
Godard item, with behind the scenes shots of the director and producer and a humorous
tagline for an ending.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Fall Guy rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Sadao Yamane interview, teaser trailer, filmography
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 13, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson