Flag in The Mist: ”But poor people have no hope….even justice is out of reach for us.”

Year: 1965
Directed by Yôji Yamada
Produced by
Written by Hashimoto Shinobu and Matsumoto Seicho
Cast: Chieko Baishô, Osamu Takizawa, Michiyo Aratama, Yûsuke Kawazu, Yôsuke Kondô and Taketoshi Naitô

What is a lawyer? In the eyes of the world, a lawyer is seen as an upholder of justice. A lawyer’s duties are necessary for justice to work. Flag in the Mist confronts the nature of being a lawyer and the consequences of a lawyer who loses sight of the nature of his job. A young woman named Kiriko seeks out a famous lawyer for her brother’s trial, but the lawyer refuses to take the case because she can’t pay his large fee. Her brother’s fate ends tragically, but things take an interesting turn after the lawyer needs Kiriko’s help for a case involving someone close to the lawyer.

The gist of the film’s moral is the mingling of justice and revenge. How the lack of justice may lead to bitter vengeance. Flag in the Mist has the trappings of a film noir with the mist in its visuals, the ever dark surroundings and the constant returns to bars in the middle of the night. Moreover, the overt pessimism presented in the world. Flag in the Mist has a different narrative focus than most other film noirs with its constant focus on the criminal underworld and cops. Flag in the Mist is a cynical look into the law profession. The narrative unfolds linearly, but the story surrounding Kiriko’s brother is told mainly in retrospective. It is told retrospectively through someone reading a series of tabloids, or someone else reads the actual transcript from the case. This choice to tell her brother’s dilemma this way creates the feeling his fate was inevitable once the lawyer refused to take the case. The time to change her brother’s fate seems so momentary.

Kiriko is a striking character. She always remains soft-spoken yet even under the veneer of this; she’s able to say a lot more with her few words. Desperate as Kiriko may be, Kiriko always retains this quiet dignity to her. And, that quiet dignity exists to her because she sees herself as a moral force in the otherwise completely amoral world. Kiriko’s character subtly changes over the course of the movie. It’s a slow shift to a hero to anti-hero that happens so organically that it allows the themes of the movie to be displayed so naturally.

Kinzô Ôtsuka the lawyer that Kiriko seeks out is the second most important character of the film. He isn’t the complete heartless figure that one might guess from reading the plot summary. It wasn’t any sense of evil that led Ôtsuka to disregard her brother’s case but just pure apathy. Ôtsuka didn’t believe he was throwing Kiriko’s brother to the wolves, Ôtsuka was confident that someone else would have picked up the slack for him. After the truth about the tragedy about Kiriko’s brother hits him, Ôtsuka is genuinely displeased about the matter.So, When the table finally turn on Ôtsuka, even though it could be described as a rightful act of karma, it feels strangely wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so Ôtsuka ends up becoming an odd hero in Kiriko’s schemes.

Much of the film operates as a mystery with everyone searching for the truth. The persistent mystery of the true murderer keeps the story always flowing. Ôtsuka’s side of the story builds up a subplot nicely that will change the direction of the story. As everyone is focused on one murder, another murder is ready to be committed. Just like the miscarriage of justice left the truth behind the first murder hidden forever, a miscarriage of justice will do the same to the truth behind the second case. Injustice breeds injustice.

It is, in fact, the truth that divides the first and the second half of the movie. In the first half, the truth remains hidden until is too late, in the second half, the truth is revealed at the start. Lack of proper justice left the truth behind the first murder hidden for too long. In the second half, the revenge born from the injustice over the first murder attempts to mask the truth about the second murder. Then, the question will be if the truth about the second murder will arise before it is too late? Once the film tackles this question, it becomes a powerful tale of morality. Not only for Ôtsuka but Kiriko as well.   Her decision to be a witness in Ôtsuka’s favor or not decides the climax.

Regardless, if it was poetic justice created through a series of coincidences or an act of divine karma; the harrowing climax is quite startling. At the risk of spoilers, I just wanted to say it is a fierce clash of revenge and justice.

Flag in the Mist is a deeply moralizing film noir that asks you think about the nature of justice in human society. The repercussions that the miscarriage of justice results in. It mingles justice and revenge in such a striking way, that it becomes hard to separate the two. Yet, in the end, no matter how these two may come close, there is a fundamental difference between the two. Revenge  undermines the truth while justice is supposed to be in service to the truth.




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