In the States, Miike Takashi is largely known for three movies: Audition, Ichi the Killer, and One Missed Call. From those three, you might figure him to be a horror director, a shock auteur, and relatively new to the scene. In fact, he makes movies across a wide variety of genres—ranging from slapstick zany to kids adventure to creepy weirdness to violent crime to high school solidarity—though with some thematic similarities (weird characters! magical realism! slightly off character angles! juxtaposition between cartoonish vocalizations and heavy violence! strange sex scenes that leave weird tastes in your mouth!), and has been doing so for over a decade.
Early on, in the early to mid-90s, most of his movies involved the Yakuza, and many of the early ones I have seen or read about involve questions of masculine relationships and a sense of being an outsider. Shinjuku Triad Society (subtitled Chinese Mafia War) has a Shinjuku Yakuza sect bumping up against a Tawainese Triad led by a relatively unkown, but seemingly charismatic, man named Wang. Kiriya, a Japanese policeman who takes some graft from the Yakuza sect, accepts his corrupt state (as well as his violent one, he "interrogates" a woman in the opening scene by smashing her head in with a chair) because he is buying a better life for his aging parents and helping his brother to become a lawyer. Shortly after a fair sized bust of the Dragon's Fang Triad (the aforementioned Tawainese based group) he is angered to find out his younger brother is now working with their lawyer to defend the criminals and to aid them in their activies. All of his plans for a quiet life for his family are coming up for nothing as his brother is more and more caught up with the violent, and openly homosexual, leader.
The core dilemma in the movie is the older's brother attempt to get his younger brother out of the lifestyle while trying to bust Wang (obstensibly in relation to a murder that occurs prior to the opening credits, but that event is barely touched upon). "Lifestyle" can be interpreted in both senses of the term (while Miike does not necessarily demonize homosexuality in this film, all sex in the film—prudes beware, there are several pretty graphic sex scenes—is played out as violent and manipulative, and most of it is homosexual, including a quasi-comical anal interrogation scene). In a nod to the old adages that no paths are straight and the importance of getting to know your enemies, while Kiriya goes through great lengths to free his brother, most of his actions do not seem readily or obviously connected to this goal. He takes a trip to Tawain to learn more about the Triad, he manages to get the crap kicked out of him for an unkown purpose (probably just loses it?), and he torments a prostitute just to leave a message (in Miike style, the sexual violence is not as easy to sum up as it should be). This is a movie about a man's facing of himself and the other that torment him, as well as dealing with outside versus inside influences.
There are only a couple of scenes that deal with the Yakuza versus Triad storyline, which takes backseat to Kiriya's story. If you are looking for a detailed gang-land movie with politics and careful rank movements, this is not it. If you are looking for a movie in which a deranged lunatic leads an organ harvesting Triad and flashes his then enemies in an unexpected negotiaion, well, here you are. This movie does have Miike style overviolence, but not a whole lot. An eye gets plucked out in one scene. One guy sprays blood from a wrist wound. There are some heavy punches landed. A couple of overly wet blowjobs. There is that anal interrogation (most memorable scene, probably, with a scene involving human poo being second; couldn't tell you why, it just sticks out, no pun intended). Again, if you are into it for anything on the level of Ichi the Killer, you will be let down. This is all about Kiriya's descent into hell, his attempt to understand the people he is up against, and why he is up against them. A fairly flatly shot, serious movie, about what has to be done to free a brother from crime before he gets too deep. Also, what it means to live in a place where the best way to get promoted and to get a raise is to be killed in the line of duty.
My overall opinion of this movie is that it is Good but I reserve one caveat. It has a tendency of moving in stops and starts, a snail's pace for a few minutes followed by an information dump. More than one person, including me, has tried to watch this movie while tired or sleepy and it does not work. You get comfortable during a five minute stretch and then a plot twist shows up in a ten second interval and you end up having to rewind because you know you missed something. As something of a bonus, the Arts Magic version of the disk (comes in the "Takashi Miike Omnibus" edition as well as the trilogy edition) includes a Miike scholar commentary and an interesting set of interviews by the director. I was especially enjoyed his discussion about working with Daiei, whom he pointed out had put together some weird movies in their time. That sort of love of the craft style director is my favorite kind. On the negative side, both the Arts Magic and the [earlier?] Tartan disc have some weird choices for translation in places. It could use some touching up in that regards.
Si Vales, Valeo
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Written by Doug Bolden
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