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Two by Fukasaku

May 15, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

The American Cinematheque will honor the memory of director Kinji Fukasaku, who died in January at age 72, with an admission-free screening Sunday of two of his best films, "Under the Fluttering Military Flag" (1972), one of the first Japanese films to lay blame for World War II at the feet of Emperor Hirohito, and that high-camp cult classic "Black Rose" (a.k.a. "Black Rose Mansion") (1969).

In the first, Sachiko Hidari superbly plays a war widow denied a government pension because her husband (Tetsuro Tanba), squad leader in New Guinea, had been executed for having killed his commanding officer. The film unfolds in flashbacks to depict the horrendous suffering of Japanese soldiers at the hands of a fanatic military elite.

It reveals Fukasaku as a major screen artist, justly celebrated for decades for his no-holds-barred gangster and war pictures, including the Japanese portions of "Tora! Tora! Tora!"

His most-often revived films are "Black Lizard" and its sequel "Black Rose" (1969), both bravura blends of sentiment and razzle-dazzle -- think of Maria Montez being viewed with poignancy. They star willowy female impersonator Akihiko Maruyama as an underworld femme fatale, who in "Black Rose" has become a fixture at an extravagant Art Deco private club in a heady tale lamenting the death of mystery and romance.

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