Perhaps, if I spent half an hour or so thinking about it, I could remember having seen a more confused film than P. P. Rider, but I certainly can't come up with a better candidate on the spur of the moment. I saw a film yesterday with two reels out of order that was easier to deal with than P. P. Rider. Considering how blatantly obvious P. P. Rider's various obscurities are, I can only assume they were intentional.

P. P. Rider is a Japanese film dealing with three teenagers who set out to recover a kidnapped schoolmate. This capsule description, while accurate enough, makes the film sound rather like something Disney used to make to fill a couple spare weeks on his TV show. P. P. Rider isn't that at all. It certainly wasn't made for children. But who was it made for?

The kidnapped kid is an obnoxious bully. As best I could make out, the heros felt that kidnapping was far too good for him and intended to seek him out to exact their own revenges. Their methods are opaque, involving attempts to enlist the aid of a local gangster and their teacher. The kids seem to think nothing of running all over Japan without a word to their parents, taking fearful risks, or putting other people in danger to further their uncertain aims. There might be a good movie in the examination of such behavior, but the makers of P. P. Rider indulge in the cinematic equivalent of their protagonists' idiocies, so that surely wasn't the point.

The confusions of P. P. Rider extend beyond the plot. I have no idea what the filmmakers' intentions were, nor what the character motivations were supposed to be, nor even what the characters' main traits were. I don't even know what the title is supposed to mean. The story, by Leonard Schrader (Paul's brother) might or might not have been comprehensible. The screenplay (by Chieko Schrader and Takuya Nishioka) is definitely not understandable. Director Shinji Somai adds no clarity to the proceedings, and in fact makes things worse by his odd stagings of certain scenes. An impossible script can sometimes be partially redeemed by bravura, don't-look-back direction, but Somai doesn't even attempt to offer that.

The actors are tolerable, but do not succeed in making their characters' actions understandable to the audience. Only Tatsuya Fuji, star of Empire of Passion and In the Realm of the Senses, is likely to be known to Americans, and only to fairly devoted fans of Japanese cinema. The actors playing the children deserve credit for making do with what they are given.

About the only thing clear to me about P. P. Rider is that the filmmakers had some vague intention to offer homage to some venerable old Hollywood plot devices, such as the bad man who takes children under his wing (Three Godfathers alone was made into four film versions before 1940) and the kid eager to become a gangster (reference the little brothers of Cagney's characters in any of a number of Warner Bros. films of the thirties). These don't constitute real themes, just momentary throwaways in the general confusion. Perhaps were I Japanese I would have understood P. P. Rider. It was apparently very popular in Japan. On the other hand, a substantial number of those walking out of the theater shaking their heads appeared to be Japanese, too. P. P. Rider is unlikely to receive wide US distribution, which is no great loss, overall.

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