Fall Guy (Kamata Koshin-Kyoku) (1982)

There is a fine line between love and loyalty, such that people often traipse between them both without ever understanding the difference. Love can burn the soul so deeply that no amount of faith can cure it. But once the bonds of loyalty are broken, no magic balm of belief can cure them.

Loyalty initially binds bit player Yasu (Mitsuru Hirata) to arrogant superstar Ginshiro (Morio Kazama). Typically, the guys who hang around Ginshiro provide an instant alibi when his behavior gets out of hand, and a shoulder to lean on when certain aspects of celebrity become too “intoxicating.” Even if they dream of individual glory, the sycophants remain true to their benefactor to achieve it. Yasu practices samurai stances in his dingy apartment, posters of James Dean pasted on the walls. He just wants to be recognized as someone, so when Ginshiro stops by with a proposition, Yasu is receptive. Ginshiro has gotten his ex-girlfriend, the frightfully unbalanced Konatsu (Keiko Matsuzaka), pregnant, and she won’t have an abortion. Yasu agrees to marry the girl, and in the process, falls in love with his instant fiancée.

A forgotten masterpiece by the late Kinji Fukasaku, Kamata Koshin-Kyoku (Fall Guy) is a stage door satire draped in heartfelt emotions. Reminiscent of Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man, Fall Guy examines love by way of the motion picture industry. Thanks to HVE’s new DVD release, individuals only familiar with Fukasaku’s early crime films, or his controversial Battle Royale (2000), can now see one of the most mesmerizing examinations of how personal and professional obligations can blossom into true romance, spectacular farce, or simply turn into bitter, angry disillusionment.

A narrator introduces the duplicities of the movie business, just as a set can be transformed into anything a filmmaker wants. Ginshiro is the overpaid star the public loves but his so-called friends despise. He is a drunk and a womanizer, a peacock learning that the once rich pigment of his plumage is fading with familiarity and age. Yasu, on the other hand, is just a hard-working lackey. Agreeing to marry Konatsu is both a chance to do a favor for his high-profile pal and a potential shame to his familial honor, with both elements threatening to upend his insignificant existence.

Desperate to make his new “arrangement” work, Yasu transforms into the title character, a far too eager to please stunt man willing to risk his neck (and other body parts) for a few thousand yen and to ensure his bride-to-be’s happiness. He is also taking the fall for Ginshiro’s lack of paternal responsibility and narcissism, but Yasu is fine with that, at first. After all, he is just taking one for the team.

But Konatsu is a curveball, a down and out ex-actress who has, until recently, stalked Ginshiro, content to remain in his shadow. Now with a baby on the way, she’s growing impatient, no longer able to watch her man woo a brat named Tomoko (Chika Takami). Konatsu sees in Yasu the decency and dedication lacking in her previous paramour. Her eventual choice between the two is the focal point of Fall Guy‘s second half. According to Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane (interviewed for the DVD bonus materials), the chance to craft a strong female character like Konatsu interested the director, who wanted to move beyond the underworld of the Yakuza and the chaos of metropolitan Japan to create an intimate picture. Fall Guy is just that, turning on the passions of its characters.

And so, we witness petty egos at war as Ginshiro and his rival Tachibana (Daijiro Harada) engage in a brilliantly directed samurai swordfight. A montage illustrates Yasu’s growing love for Konatsu, through a series of ever more dangerous stunts. By the time the fall guy is leaping from a 15-story building, he is hopelessly hooked. But the bravura moment comes in an extended argument between Yasu and Konatsu, where the frightened performer (he’s agreed to take a very dangerous tumble from a mammoth staircase) attempts to destroy both physically and emotionally, the almost normal husband and wife relationship the two have built together (Yasu says, “The more I find myself loving you, the sadder I become”). Indeed, all the acting here is top-notch. Mitsura Hirata may act like a silent film clown, but he also brings a sadness to Yasu, highlighting the pride in his risk-taking. Morio Kazama shows how Ginshiro is the product of a studio system that sees him like a commodity.

Fall Guy‘s energy amplifies its seemingly simple story. Fukasaku’s striking compositions remind us that the world of filmmaking is draped in a charade, an expertly plotted manipulation. We cheer the hero, laugh as his stunts become more surreal, and hope that Ginshiro gets his comeuppance. It is easy to see why Fall Guy won the top four awards given by the Japanese Academy (Picture, Director, Actor, and Actress). Kinji Fukasaku has crafted a fairytale about love and loyalty, highlighting that there is more to a relationship that a strict adherence to duty or devotion. Sometimes, happiness requires a leap of faith, and someone to take the fall.