Amazing, little-known historical events shape Vincente Amorim’s fictional post-WWII drama “Dirty Hearts,” set in Brazil’s large Japanese colony. Sequestered during the war, cut off from all Nippon publications, most immigrants refused to believe their country did not triumph. Fanatical societies sprang up, targeting those who acknowledged Japan’s surrender as “dirty hearts,” and launching a murderous internecine campaign against them. Like Amorim’s 2008 “Good,” “Hearts” follows the fate of a good man caught up in fascistic madness, here told through the eyes of his disillusioned wife. Though pic is unimaginatively shot, its explosive subject matter could launch it into distribution.
Friendly young neighborhood photographer Takahashi (Tsuyoishi Ihara, “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “13 Assassins”) and his lovely wife, Miyuki (Takako Tokiwa), seem unaffected by the faraway war. But tensions mount around reports of Japan’s loss, the news denounced as enemy propaganda by the majority of immigrants. A well-liked member of the community, the somewhat naive Takahashi is singled out by diehard Col. Watanabe (Eiji Okuda), a monomaniacal fanatic with no redeeming qualities. Takahashi, persuaded that his patriotic duty lies in the extermination of traitors, is given a samurai sword to accomplish the task.
First to go is Takahashi’s friend Aoki (Issamu Yazaki), who acted as a simple translator for the Brazilian police and happened to believe that accounts of Japan’s defeat were genuine. Helmer Amorim stretches out the graphic execution scene in painful, gory detail, Takahashi returning home bloodied and demoralized to a wife who slowly begins to comprehend what he has done. Once compromised, Takahashi is firmly caught in the colonel’s web, killing sensible men whom he once called friends and losing the love of his wife and his self-respect in the process.
In David Franca Mendes’ melodramatic script, Takahashi stands alone in his moral ambiguity: The colonel’s other followers are all portrayed as villainous thugs delighting in meting out death and destruction, while all of Takahashi’s rapidly dwindling friends and acquaintances are thoughtful family men who see no virtue in denying reality.
Amorim posits his film as a domestic drama played out on a large historical stage, with obvious relevance to contemporaneous issues of bigotry, fanaticism and denial. The sepia-toned pic marks little distinction between interiors and exteriors, be they Brazilian police stations or Japanese houses. The production design, meant to convey claustrophobia and sequestration (it is never clear if the colony is a war-created ghetto or a pre-existent enclave), mainly manages to look like one big, brown movie set.