Thursday, 7 January 2010


Set in an impoverished mining complex, Pitfall tells the story of a close-knit community torn apart by the activities of a mysterious serial killer dressed in white. The murderer’s first victim is an unemployed miner, whom he chases out to a marsh before stabbing him to death. To cover his tracks, he pays the only witness to run to the village and claim that the deed was carried out by the trade union leader of the mine’s newer pit. Naturally, the union leader is distraught and enlists the help of his counterpart from the old pit to investigate. Before long, both are also dead, along with the witness of the first murder. Throughout the film, the deceased return as ghosts, in the state they were in when they died. These ghosts roam the community in pursuit of their killer, but are naturally incapable of alerting the locals or calling for help.

Social realism sits abreast with surrealism in director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s chilling debut. Meditations on mortality quickly outgrow the murder mystery premise as the ghosts of the past literally hang over the present. Hiroshi Segawa’s inventive cinematography rhymes vividly with acclaimed composer Toru Takemitsu’s penetrative soundtrack. The film shares a lot of its themes (death, absence, identity) and atmosphere with Teshigahara’s monumental second film Woman of the Dunes, and the two work splendidly as parallel stories. Less forgiving viewers may complain about the lack of conclusion, but it is otherwise impossible to fault Pitfall, yet another Japanese New Wave classic.

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