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  Blue Christmas Close Encounters of the Bleak Kind
Year: 1978
Director: Kihachi Okamoto
Stars: Tatsuya Nakadai, Hiroshi Katsuno, Keiko Takeshita, Eiji Okada, Shin Kishida, Eisei Amamoto, Kaoru Yachigusa, Masaya Oki, Yusuke Okada, Etsushi Takahashi, Harumi Arai, Naoko Otani, Kunie Tanaka
Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: All over the world UFO sightings are on the rise. What is more all those experiencing alien encounters share the same strange after-effect: their blood turns from red to blue. Before long another side-effect emerges. The blue-blooded people exhibit milder dispositions. They are unable to get angry. Intrigued by this global phenomenon, prominent Japanese scientist Dr. Hyodo (Eiji Okada, star of Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959)) visits the United Nations to deliver his research only to be abducted by shifty American agents. News reporter Minami (Tatsuya Nakadai, legendary star of Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) among many classics) is torn away from promoting tacky western pop group 'The Humanoids' - whose hit single 'Blue Christmas' tops the charts, causing mass hysteria among Japanese teens - to investigate. What he uncovers is a disturbing international conspiracy that views the blue-bloods as a threat. Meanwhile, soldier Oki (Hiroshi Katsuno) begins a tentative romance with meek barber shop employee Saeko (Keiko Takeshita) only to discover she is a blue-blood. Reeling from this revelation Oki grows conflicted about his own role in a deadly operation set to go down on Christmas Eve...

By now most cult film fans are likely aware of the swarm of Star Wars rip-offs that engulfed the world like an alien invasion in the late Seventies. However there was also a mini-wave of sci-fi films inspired by the other big genre blockbuster of 1977: Steven Spielberg's seminal ode to UFOs Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Released by Toho Films, proud parents of Godzilla and other landmark effects-driven genre films, Blue Christmas (or, in its original Japanese title: Blood Type: Blue) was the brainchild of Kihachi Okamoto. Though best known as a master of samurai films (known in Japan as chanbara) and war epics, Okamoto dabbled repeatedly in science fiction. With varying results: e.g. Age of Assassins (1967) and his forays in anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1978) and Coo of the Far Seas (1993).

Working from a screenplay by playwright Sô Kuramoto, a master at romantic dramas (hence, the second half focuses primarily on the doomed love affair between dead-eyed crewcut antihero Oki and simpering nonentity Saeko), Blue Christmas is a strange, ambitious but pretentious and heavy-handed allegorical drama with sci-fi overtones. Though inspired by Close Encounters (albeit perhaps less the film itself than the phenomenon it sired) the film more closely matches the gloomy conspiratorial tone of Mario Gariazzo's more overtly derivative Eyes Behind the Stars (1978). Both films even fade-out on variations of the same ending. Set next to Spielberg's utopian vision, the Japanese and Italian productions are like night and day. Where Close Encounters was about rousing America out of its Seventies malaise with the wonders of a wider universe, here alien contact brings out only the worst in humanity: paranoia, bigotry, hysteria and violence. Not for nothing does Okamoto include a key scene wherein Saeko watches a TV documentary about Nazis and concentration camps (it is later revealed a large section of blue-blooded people are exiled to a camp in Siberia). Close Encounters climaxes with alien communion having an implied cathartic effect on humanity. Blue Christmas climaxes with a Godfather-style murder montage as acts of international genocide restore the right-wing world order. Which might be why the film's champions rate it as a paranoid precursor to The X-Files.

Okamoto gives the film a more grounded, almost documentary like tone. Very different from most Japanese genre films from the Showa era and closer to the conspiracy thrillers Alan J. Pakula was making in the Seventies. Specifically The Parallax View (1974) and All the President's Men (1976). Given the Japanese are famously obsessed with blood types defining personality traits, Okamoto likely intended Blue Christmas to satirize a uniquely Japanese brand of prejudice, including allusions to xenophobia and the slow-eroding of liberalism from local politics occurring at the time. Unfortunately his ambitions exceed his grasp. Grossly mishandled, the story jumps from scene to scene in confoundingly abrupt, often unintentionally comic fashion. Devoid of compelling characters (Nakadai is interesting as the perpetually bug-eyed intense reporter but has no effect on the plot while lovers Oki and Saeko have all the charisma of wet cement) and reducing its UFOs to a single photograph of vaguely sperm-like lights in the sky, the film falls back on wild conspiracy theories and windy debates between stern professorial types. Okamoto veers off on wild tangents including a subplot about Yuko, an ill-fated Japanese pop star with blue blood, the Beatlemania like hysteria that surrounds the Humanoids (who make an absurd impression preaching about peace, love and dope in their hokey hippie garb and blonde afros, and don't even impact the plot before being bumped off in an off-screen plane crash!)and Minami's visits to France and New York where he quizzes confused locals about UFOs. Only for them to either stare dumbfounded, laugh or in the case of a group of young women mimic his walk (?!)). For a film about prejudice and xenophobia it tends to reinforce certain old ideas about foreigners being rude or indifferent to the Japanese. While Kuramoto's script makes some pertinent points about Japan's powerlessness in the face of a rising tide of fascism, slapdash story construction renders the end result a turgid bore.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Kihachi Okamoto  (1923 - 2005)

Veteran Japanese director who used his experiences during the Second World War to shape the outlook and tone of numerous anti-war films, such as 1959's Dokuritsugu Gurentai, and 1968's Nikudan (aka The Human Bullet). Okamoto also directed gangster pictures such as The Age of Assassins (1967) and samurai epics like Sword of Doom (1966) and Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970), frequently casting the great Japanese actor Toshirô Mifune. Okamoto slowed his work-rate afterwards, but still continued to direct for TV and cinema until his death.

 
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