One of the benefits of writing film comments is that readers will sometimes send me recommendations. If that were the only benefit, and if this were the only recommendation I would get, it would be worth it.
By reading the comments, you may think that the main value of this film is a damning polemic on capital punishment plus a perhaps more powerful examination of (Japanese) racism toward Koreans. It is those things and powerfully so. But the manner in while the narrative unfolds deserves experiencing even if Japanese politics of the sixties doesn't interest you.
Its construction is worth your effort. It starts as a documentary of a hanging. The man is hanged but apparently survives. He has lost his identity. In order for his re-execution to be legit, they have to reintroduce him to the crime. Though all the acting is done in the execution room by the executioners (including a doctor, lawyer and Christian priest), the viewer enters shifting imaginations and we are taken on a series of conversions.
At one end, the beginning, we have the execution witnesses following the re-enactors from scene to scene, the re-enactors, executioners, taking roles in the drama. The scenes become more real until the murder where an executioner gets carried away and kills an innocent woman.
Then things shift more radically and all sorts of complex folds appear simultaneously. Some viewers "can see" and others not. The murdered girl comes out of her coffin to become a competitor to write what we see, combination lover, writer, and sister, shifting from Japanese to Korean.
You need to ignore the preaching because it gets in the way. Perhaps the second time around pay attention to it it maps quite well onto America and its blacks, though there's far less brutality, length of history and institutionalized racism in the US case. But as I say, this all has less value than the way the thing is put together.
While watching this, you will notice that the steps of narrative shifting are of different types, radically different types as varied as you get in "Citizen Kane," or "Annie Hall." They slip sideways in unexpected directions. But the shifts occur at roughly the same frequency and seem at about the same distance.
This narrative shifting does serve the political agenda, in part because that agenda is simple. Something that seems invisible in one maturely rationalized perspective, become obvious when the perspective is shifted a bit away from all the storied protections.
I think I'm putting this on my list of essential films.
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.