Long considered Uchida's masterpiece and one of the essential works of Japanese cinema, A Fugitive from the Past was made the same year as Imamura’s Intentions of Murder and Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes, which helps locate its formal experimentation and thematic concerns. A modernist detective story in which the past pays an unwelcome visit as surely as it does in any film noir, A Fugitive from the Past involves a crime of theft, murder, and arson during a typhoon in 1947 that led to the destruction of a town in Hokkaido. A decade later, the person responsible, now a successful businessman living under an assumed name, has a surprise call from a prostitute who encountered him on that fateful day.
In its use of the investigative crime genre to inspect (and indict) society, the film looks forward to many European films of the subsequent decade, but few can match its technical virtuosity. Shot in black-and-white 16mm Scope with a slow ASA stock, then blown up to 35mm, the film’s rough, grainy textures exaggerate its elemental bleakness (especially the blustery, blowing ocean), its brooding sense of survival at any cost and of the impossibility of salvation in post-war Japan. (James Quandt)