Review: Tracked (Hideo Gosha, 1985)

by Jason Suzuki

At the heart of Gosha’s film Tracked (薄化粧) is the question about whether a man can break free from the horrible deeds of his past. The man in question is Tokichi Sakane, portrayed by Vengeance is Mine‘s Ken Ogata. In this film he is playing yet another serial killer, two of his kills providing the very start of the film; an explosion taking out a husband and wife. Sakane is put to jail for these killings as well as the murder of his wife and son. After a failed suicide attempt in prison, he escapes, going from various construction jobs while a police detective continues to pursue. If we take the explosion as point zero, the film spans the course of many years before and after. What we notice in his life as a fugitive is changed man, one who is soft spoken, hard working, a man that a younger man (played by Naoto Takenaka) can look up to and that bar hostess Chie (Mariko Fuji) can fall in love with.

Can we continue to judge people based on the heinous actions of their past, expecting them to do more of the same? While Sakane never kills again, Gosha constructs the film in such a way that there are just some things you can’t forget or forgive. It’s not until the second half of the film where we see more of Sakane’s past and what lead up to the murders of his family and the murder of who we find out later to be the parents of a young girl he was sleazily pursuing.It’s easy to root for him during the first half, as we have no portrait of Sakane pre-suicide. All we’ve seen is an explosion with no context. He obviously repents what he did, so why shouldn’t we forgive him? But the more we see of the man he was (Ogata delivers an amazing performance by the way, ostensibly playing two completely different characters) the harder it is to justify his running from the police and attempts to start a new life.

As someone whose essence was to cheat others, whether out of money or through infidelity, we realize that this selfishness has manifested in Sakane in a different way. Sure he repents what he did, but not enough to pay for his crimes. It reminds me of the Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing, it’s easy to cry for a criminal executed especially when we weren’t there for the grisly crime they committed. The Japanese title translates as “light makeup” a more fitting title as Sakane uses small touches of cosmetics for his disguise, never fully being able to shake his past. It suggests that he really is just the same man.

Tracked is an exercise in non-linearity and how it can be used as more than just a device to derive more complexity to something that might not be as was the case in the post-Tarantino boom of filmmakers. Gosha uses it here to mess with our stance on a character, to challenge us on how basic we can be when it comes to second chances.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.