“Your love for your country can’t change anything now” the conflicted hero of Shiro Moritani’s conspiracy thriller Bullet Wound (弾痕, Dankon) is advised as a villainous chaos agent attempts to convince him to switch sides. Like many of Toho’s gunman dramas of the late ‘60s, Bullet Wound anticipates the cinema of paranoia which would take hold in the following decade set against the constant anxiety of the ANPO protests while the Japanese-American CIA agent hero struggles with his uncertain place in a world of geopolitical instability.
Takimura (Yuzo Kayama) is a man with two countries, born in the US to Japanese parents but later orphaned, now working for the CIA in Japan. Perhaps tellingly, we can’t initially tell what side he’s on even as he tries to prevent an assignation attempt on some kind of dignitary connected to the US. The main crisis occurs when Takamura helps a Chinese man, Yang (Shin Kishida), escape a trade summit in order to defect and chase freedom in America. The Americans, however, then torture him until he finally admits that he’s a stooge, the defection was merely a means of getting him into the US as a spy while the trade delegation is only a front for an upcoming arms deal with a international smuggler known as “Tony Rose” (Andy Seams). Takimura and his team are obviously keen the transaction not take place, but are unable to take Rose out because as Takimura’s boss points out they’ve used him too and he’s too well connected. If they move against him, someone will move against them.
The Chinese arms deal is linked back to a sense of cold war paranoia which spreads to the young students protesting the ANPO treaty. Takimura’s boss calls them “terrorists” unable to understand how there can be Japanese people who could do this to their own country seemingly unaware of the minor irony in his statement. Meanwhile, he prepares to sacrifice Takimura as need be, callously remarking that a man with two countries who can’t choose between them can be dangerous while admitting that his services have been useful to the Americans but they may not always be so. The Americans meanwhile make crass racist remarks while chasing down the Chinese spies, taking altogether too much pleasure in eradicating them while the hitherto stoical Takimura looks on with disapproval mixed with hurt and shame beginning to wonder if he’s really on the right side. “You and the US will never defeat us” his rivals insist, revealing a mind-blowing piece of info that sets Takimura on a collision course with fate.
Meanwhile, a strange young artist crafts horrifying statues displaying the “agony of loneliness” and longs to escape Japan for South America where they apparently have the best stone. But as someone later tells her, the desire to go to a new land is not born of hope, and expectations are almost always betrayed. Only love can change everything into hope he tells her, as she pins hers on running away with Takimura while he tries to tie up a few loose ends. Yet there’s also a kind of fatalism that defines their relationship, Takimura reflecting on watching a man die up close and haunted by the searching look in his eyes as if he were trying to understand the meaning not of life but of death. An ironic street singer sings a sad song about those who die and what they leave behind, the soldier apparently leaving not a trace of peace.
The implication is perhaps that Takimura’s dual nationalities are not viable, that a man with two countries cannot escape by choosing a third nor can he survive without sacrificing one or the other. Meanwhile, Moritani slides into anti-Americanism painting the CIA as duplicitous and exploitative as they simultaneously demonise the Japanese and position men like Tony Rose as international chaos agents destabilising the global order. Handheld photography adds to the sense of anxious immediacy and confusion as Takimura attempts to define his own identity only to discover perhaps that he no longer has one caught as he is between two nations as two selves at the heart of a silent war.