Issue #227           HOME          E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com        BACK ISSUES            August 30th, 2004

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Takashi Miike's
Black Society Trilogy

SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY
(1995; Kadokawa Daiei Pictures Inc.)
Rating:
7/10
Japanese: Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia senso
English: Shinjuku Black Society: China Mafia War

RAINY DOG
(1997; Kadokawa Daiei Pictures Inc.)

Rating: 7/10
Japanese: Gokudo kuroshakai
English: Yakuza of the Black Society

LEY LINES
(1999; Kadokawa Daiei Pictures Inc.)

Rating: 8/10
Japanese: Nihon kuroshakai


These crime thrillers were among the first works of Takashi Miike to garner critical attention and earn him the significant following he enjoys nowadays. There is no direct connection between each film but they are certainly linked by the themes of crime and cultural alienation.

Kippei Shiina in SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY Tomorowo Taguchi in SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY Takeshi Caesar in SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY

Miike’s first theatrical release, the engrossing SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY centers around corrupt police officer Tatsuhito Kiriya (well played by SLEEPLESS TOWN’s Kippei Shiina), who is half Japanese/half Chinese and searching for his own identity in life. While cracking down on a Taiwanese triad gang called The Dragon’s Claw Society, headed up by the certifiable Wang Zhi-ming (Tomorowo Taguchi), Tatsuhito discovers that his younger brother, Yoshihito (Kyosuke Izutsu), is working for them. Ordered to transport a prisoner to Taiwan and then return immediately, Tatsuhito decides instead to poke around the countryside. There, he discovers Wang’s newest source of income: he is acting as a middleman for poor Taiwanese families who are willing to sell their children’s organs to desperate but affluent Japanese parents. Tatsuhito’s obsession with bringing about Wang’s downfall increases, as does his desire to liberate Yoshihito from this scuzzy world, for the sake of their elderly parents.

Miike utilizes a somewhat fanciful approach in depicting the criminal life here but aspects of this warped universe will be familiar to those who follow his work. The amoral aura extends to Tatsuhito, who is on the Yakuza payroll and not adverse to raping a female suspect (or arranging for the violation of a male one!) to get the information he needs. The character’s failure to meaningfully connect with either of the cultures provides much of the interest here, as does the sordid underworld milieu in which he finds himself adrift. Some of the more extreme carnage and sexual acts are conveyed mostly via suggestion but may still be too much for some viewers. Miike regular Takeshi Caesar co-stars as Wang’s right-hand man and Ren Osugi plays the leader of the Yakuza gang opposing Wang.

Sho Aikawa in RAINY DOG Chen Lian-mei (left), Sho Aikawa in RAINY DOG Gao Ming-jun in RAINY DOG

A more reserved work, RAINY DOG was filmed entirely in Taiwan. Bad circumstances back home force Yakuza foot soldier Yuji (gangster movie perennial Sho Aikawa) to endure a miserable self-exile in Taipei. Yuji’s mood is not helped by the seemingly endless rain and he constantly listens to the reports on his radio so that he won’t be caught in a downpour. Desperate for cash, Yuji is reduced to performing hits for local triad boss Ke. One day, his life is unexpectedly changed by the arrival of a son he didn’t know he had. While he initially ignores the boy (who is mute), the terminally lonely Yuji eventually acknowledges his existence and even brings him along when he travels across country to perform another contract killing. The victim (who was a local gang boss, a fact Ke intentionally did not convey) had a large sum of cash with him and Yuji decides to snatch it and flee the country with the boy and a pretty young prostitute named Lily (DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP’s Chen Lian-mei) he spent the previous night with. This makeshift family unit’s flight is complicated by the dead man’s vengeful brother (Gao Ming-jun), who has men combing the countryside for them.

The symbolism is all but impossible to miss (Yuji is so homesick that he watches old GAMERA movies on his computer with gleeful amusement) and the film is short on dialogue (Mandarin makes up the lion’s share) but the story’s ever-present aura of moody despair is gripping and (as per many of the director’s films) the location work is remarkable. While they shun the outrageousness of many Miike principles, the protagonists display the usual intriguing idiosyncrasies, notably Yuki’s extreme aversion to rain (he is so convinced of its unfavorable properties that he actually puts off one of his hits until a downpour has subsided). How well you respond to the performances and Miike’s intent will likely also temper your reaction to the ending, which quite intentionally incorporates no less than three hoary cliches in the space of about 2 minutes! The late Blackie Ko Shou-liang appears briefly as the whorehouse proprietor (and even gets to warble a melancholy song) and Tomorowo Taguchi gives a characteristic performance as a crackpot who has spent the past three years on Yuji’s trail.

Kazuki Kitamura in LEY LINES Dan Li in LEY LINES Naoto Takenaka in LEY LINES

Comedy (of both the situational and jet black variety) figures prominently in LEY LINES, a more characteristic effort for the director, featuring another group of displaced misfits. Desperate to leave Japan but unable to get a passport, half Japanese/half Chinese Ryuichi (Kazuki Kitamura) flees the countryside and heads for Tokyo, accompanied by his mixed heritage buddies, reticent Shunrei and stuttering dimwit Chang (the amusingly odd Tomorowo Taguchi, successfully playing a character half his actual age). Upon arriving in the Shinjuku red light district, they pick up Anita (Dan Li), a Shanghai native reduced to turning tricks, but end up locked in a room sans their wallets. Desperate to earn some cash, they peddle toluene (an industrial solvent that gets the user high when sniffed) in the local red light district. They again encounter Anita, who has had it with her pimp and the perverts he constantly inflicts upon her, and decides to join the group. Ruyuichi finally chooses their destination: Brazil. First, though, they need money...

Even for Miike, there are some truly bizarre characters and elements here. Black street urchin Barbie (Samuel Pop Aning) boasts of his resemblance to the doll (which is less than nil), a lonely but vicious triad boss (Naoto Takenaka) insists upon having Shanghai girls tell him Chinese fairytales (and they had better be good ones!) so that he can relive his childhood, and a seriously deluded trafficker (Sho Aikawa) is convinced that his home brewed toluene is just what the world needs to be happy. After a severe beating, one character appears to be all but dead but his friends are relieved when he suddenly develops an erection, irrefutable proof that he is going to pull through! The director also uses random bleeping of innocuous dialogue to make it seem dirty, and censorship of legally forbidden sights is done in the most obnoxious way possible by scratching the emulsion off of the film. Now, imagine all of this accompanied by a largely accordion score! While it may seem hard to believe given what unfolds, much of the direction is attentive and subtle, and some truly poetic sequences bookend the film. There is also much to praise on a technical level, with some superb steadicam work following the characters down grimy back alleys and even into a secret S & M lair (culminating in an unforgettable P.O.V. shot) and excellent use of color. Ren Osugi and Takeshi Caesar also appear.


PRESENTATION:

Artsmagic offers the films separately or packaged together in a nicely designed Digipak (#ATU 008). As is sometimes the case with middle-to-lower budget Japanese films, the image tends to be rather soft and dim, with limited contrasts, a problem heightened by the abundance of nighttime photography. However, the transfers are likely faithful to the original look, and the director’s use of certain hues to heighten pertinent moments or convey mood comes through quite well (particularly on the generally brighter and more colorful LEY LINES). The stereo mixes are basic but efficient. A generous number of extras are included on each platter: thorough and interesting audio commentaries by Miike expert Tom Mes, interviews with the director and editor Yasushi Shimamura, bios/filmographies, and each film’s trailer. The layer change point on SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY is poorly chosen, disrupting a tense circumstance, and LINES suffers some occasional digital video noise reduction jitter.

This DVD available through Amazon:
cover

Images in this review courtesy of Artsmagic. To read captions, hover mouse over image.


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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2004. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Artsmagic #ATU 005
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Sync Sound Japanese/ Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.80:1)
  • 101 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Great Britain: 18
  • Contains brutal violence, sexual violence, torture, sexual content, nudity, and coarse language

RAINY DOG

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Artsmagic #ATU 006
  • Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Sync Sound Mandarin/ Japanese Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.79:1)
  • 94 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Great Britain: 15
  • Contains moderate violence, mild sexual content, coarse language, and substance abuse

LEY LINES

DVD Specifications

  • U.S. Release
  • NTSC Region 1 Only
  • Artsmagic #ATU 007
  • Dolby Digital 2.0 Sync Sound Japanese/ Mandarin/ English Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.80:1)
  • 105 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Great Britain: 18
  • Contains moderate violence, nudity, sexual content, coarse language, and substance abuse

FILM REVIEW RATINGS KEY:
  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful