What Car Company Do You Work For? A Major One
Hit And Run (a direct translation from the film’s Japanese title Hikinige) aka Moment Of Terror, has never been released via official means in any country (home media, streaming etc), yet I was able to get hold of an unofficial physical DVD copy which was in shockingly good quality (and in English subtitles) for such an obscure film, and what a film it is! Ah the joy (and in some parts frustration) of discovering a motion picture which knocks your socks off, yet you are the only person who knows about it.
Hit And Run is Mikio Naruse’s foray into a Hitchcockian-style thriller and a film which shares a number of similarities with Akira Kurosawa’s High And Low (1963), albeit a bit more schlocky (in line with the type of films Bette Davis or Joan Crawford spent the 1960’s appearing in). After the unfaithful wife (Yoko Tsukasa) of a business mogul named Kakinuma (Etaro Ozawa) accidentally kills the child of single mother Kuniko (Hideko Takamine) in a hit-and-run accident, they conspire in order to save the bottom line of the company (as well as the wife covering her own back) by having their lowly chauffeur (Yutaka Sada) be the fall guy. However once Kuniko hears word of this conspiracy, she plots her revenge by posing as a maid in the house of the killer. Hit And Run is the final of the 14 film collaboration from Naruse and Hideko Takamine, as the vigilante mother whose love is taken too far. Takamine delivers one intense, angry and histrionic performance of maternal anguish, completely losing her mind come the film’s conclusion in which she becomes a nervous scenery-chewing wreck. However, the film’s more subtle moments do showcase Takamine’s impeccable ability to convey so much without the aid of dialogue.
Comparisons to Kurosawa’s High And Low quickly become evident in Hit And Run, as the business mogul of Yamano Motors Kakinuma attempts to justify his reasoning to cover up the incident in order to save the company’s bottom line as well as their new product (which is ironically a high-speed motorcycle), and the calm manner in which he does so is fascinating in how it portrays the banality of evil. This is reminiscent of how Toshiro Mifune’s character in High And Low attempts to do the same by justifying not paying a ransom in order to save the life of someone else’s child in order to save his company. Likewise, both films showcase the stark differences between the upper and the lower classes, with both films featuring families living in a property up in the hills overlooking the plebs. Additionally, the chauffeur who takes the fall is indeed played by the same actor who portrayed the unfortunate chauffeur in High And Low, Yutaka Sada. There are no moral actors present in the Hit And Run. Kuniko’s revenge goes beyond “an eye for an eye” for “a child for a child” as she attempts to murder the wife’s son but at least struggles to fully go through with her intentions. The unnamed wife however (whom has a child of her own at the same age of the one she killed) is a highly reprehensible character. I never derive any sympathy for her, even when she continues to be plagued by bad dreams of the incident. Although it is never stated, it wouldn’t be unlikely that the husband and wife are in an arranged marriage due to their age difference and lack of commitment.
One scene from Hit And Run involves a flashback to how Kuniko meet her late husband, a Japanese soldier who is pushed into a ditch by prostitutes as they mock him for losing the war, to which he is retrieved by Kuniko as a more sympathetic prostitute followed by a subsequent fast forward to the birth of their son. This flashback however appears to be from another movie starring Hideko Takamine as evidenced by the fact that she appears significantly younger alongside the drastic change in film grain and tone. The inclusion of this flashback is the one criticism I would have with the Hit And Run as its inclusion feels very out of place as this other film is more saccharine in tone nor does it add anything to the larger narrative. Likewise, it also throws into disarray as to when the film is actually set as the flashback is clearly set in the immediate aftermath of the war yet the film’s setting is clearly contemporary for the mid-1960s. That said, would any cinema sleuths be able to identify this film within the film?
Regardless, any other criticism aimed at the very tightly plotted and brisk Hit and Run is largely inconsequential as it doesn’t negatively affect the film based on the strength of its material. Some suspension of disbelief is required that the family at no point would have seen an image of Kuniko (even with her brother doing all the negotiating on her behalf, she is still seen in court). Likewise, what happened to the original maid from whom Kuniko stole the identity from? There is also a piece of set-up in which the housekeeper tells Kunkio “the boiler is dangerous, let me handle that”, however, this never leads to any payoff. Throughout the film, there is also the recurring use of heightened lighting when portraying Kuniko’s murder fantasies. These are cheesy and cliché but do add to the film’s enjoyable schlock value, while the use of a rollercoaster to create a sense of unease is something that would be repeated time and again for years to come (Fatal Attraction, False Face, the aptly titled Rollercoaster).
At its core Hit And Run is about the dangers of automobiles and those who drive them (not exactly news to me having lived in Northern Ireland my whole life with our incredibly graphic road safety adverts). There is however a historical context for this as Takashi Oguchi of The University of Tokyo states:
“Japan has experienced an enormous increase of traffic accidents as a result of the country’s rapid economic growth from the late 1950s to the year 1970. Observers in the early 1960s called the proliferation of traffic accidents the “Traffic War” as the annual traffic-accident fatalities exceeded the average annual fatalities during the First Sino-Japanese war…”
There are several moments in Hit And Run featuring some very impressive two-dimensional shots of automobiles driving by so fast in the street as the drivers give no heed to any children attempting to cross (even as a child stands alone in the middle of the road) while the film concludes on a shot featuring a scoreboard detailing the injuries and deaths from road accidents in a local area to hammer the point home. Then there is the additional metaphorical irony that the company featured in the film itself is an automobile manufacturer that is currently testing high-speed motorcycles while using the intentionally provocative slogan “gamble your life on the moment” (and even laughing that the police object to it). The film ultimately goes as far as it can with this theme without crossing the line into being preachy or overbearing. There is something all the more unsettling at the sight of a body outline when it’s that of a child. Women drivers, amirite?