An independent film crew becomes entangled in a yakuza war.
Recently I watched Sion Sono’s “Tag” (2015) (that review will post in October as part of our 31 Nights of Thrills series) and I found I really enjoyed it; it was frenetic and ridiculous, and the rules of reality seemed not to hold power over Sono’s world. He seemed to flit from one genre tone to the next without ever stopping for a breath. Though some of the effects were lacking, and the storyline felt a bit like a manga, somehow the energy behind the camera was enough to make me want to go out of my way to watch another film. I watched “Cold Fish” (2010) (that review will also post in October) and was completely baffled that it came from the same director- “Fish” felt more like a blood-soaked horror comedy than anything else, but it also had a feeling of epic drama to it. While “Tag” felt a little too Japanese to be enjoyed by everyday western audiences, “Cold Fish” could be enjoyed by anyone. Now fully intrigued by Sion Sono, I tried this film, and was again surprised by the diversity Sono showed comparatively. While this isn’t as cinematically amazing as “Cold Fish”, it is just as much fun.
“You screw up in any way, I will kill you.”
Perhaps the best part of this film is its eccentric characters and needlessly convoluted storyline. This is essentially an ensemble piece that spans over the course of ten years, culminating in a chaotic climax where all the storylines clash in bloody conflict. There are certainly some pacing issues both in the very beginning of the film, and also towards the end, but the problems are lessoned by humor and crazy happenings. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the players.
When the story starts, we’re with a group of kids filming a ‘movie’ as a hobby. The filmmaker team (they call themselves- erm- the F***-Bombers) is comprised of two camera operators- one boy, one girl- a director named Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa, and a wannabe Bruce Lee actor. We meet the heads of two rival yakuza clans: Muto (Jun Kunimura, “The Wailing”) and Ikegami (Shin’ichi Tsutsumi, “Always- Sunset on Third Street”), and we also meet Muto’s daughter Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaido, “Himizu”), who, at the time, is a budding young actress with a toothpaste commercial (we hear the jingle a hundred times before the film is done; “Gnash your teeth, lets go!”). After Muto’s wife kills four assassins in ‘self defense’ she is sent to prison and the movie flashes forward ten years, when his wife is about to be let out from prison. Muto, intent on pleasing his wife, has told her that Mitsuko’s acting career has skyrocketed since she’s been in prison, and she’s putting the finishing touches on her first feature length film. Meanwhile, Muto and Ikegami’s rivalry has boiled to a bitter blood fued, and both sides know a war is inevitable. Hirata and his crew of independent filmmakers are at a loss of what to do about making movies; their lead actor is fed up with the fact that they keep procrastinating and putting off the work that needs to be done, while at the same time, the director seems gung-ho about starting, but doesn’t have any ideas as far as story. At about an hour into this film, the three storylines begin to merge together into a chaotic, hilariously bloody confrontation.
I think the thing I liked the most about this film was the writing. It just flowed from one scene to the other without ever really slowing down. Many of the scenes featured things that, in real life, would make no sense whatsoever, but Sono doesn’t seem to care about grounding his film in reality, he cares about showing the viewer a good time, and that’s exactly what he does. He has a way of shifting tone and style with a certain kinetic energy that always kept me engaged and waiting for the next scene. Even when there wasn’t any action going on, the dialogue or the way the characters behaved was just quirky enough that it felt slightly off, but not enough to take you out of the film. Instead, Sion Sono has created a surreal world, where even the most horrific incidents have slightly comical undertones. That’s not to say that this movie does not have some slow scenes. Particularly in the beginning, when we’re first introducing all of the characters, the film feels like its wandering without direction- in fact it takes almost an hour until the film really starts to pull itself together. Some viewers, I’m sure, will take issue with this, particularly those who aren’t a fan of contemporary Japanese cinema or don’t find Sono’s style of humor funny. Sono's choices as far as cinematography and editing almost always add to the level of ridiculousness; there are dozens of freeze frames and whip zooms, often accompanied by cartoonish sound effects.
For those who are just in it for the over the top action and blood-drenched action scenes, you’ll have to wait for about an hour and a half before the brawl really starts going. There is a lot to love about the character and world building in this film though, and that first hour and a half does move rather quickly due to all the humor and strange happenings. When the violence does ramp up at the ending however, there is enough slaughter to appease even Tarantino, and almost all of it is played off for laughs, making it one of the most enjoyable and satisfying finales I’ve seen in a while. A lot of the practical effects are overblown and the blood looks overly vibrant (clearly fake), but the amount of stylized ‘oomph’ Sono throws into his fight scenes glued me to the screen. There are some moments when CGI blood splashes are used instead of practical ones, and those look jarringly cheap compared to the real effects.
This film is an absolute riot. It’s ridiculous, hilarious, brutally violent, and unapologetically strange. While this film will certainly not be for everyone, it was right up my alley. It’s a film you can’t take seriously, but you can have a lot of fun with. I absolutely recommend this film, particularly to fans of the films of Takashi Miike (“Audition”, “As the Gods Will”) or other Japanese cult directors. I will probably work my way through Sono’s filmography until I make it to his four-hour epic, “Love Exposure”.
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