Prophecy (2015)

The film begins with an intimidating and mysterious message broadcast from an internet cafe. The unknown man, whose face is obscured by a makeshift newspaper mask, reveals a “prophecy” that ill fortune is about to befall the boss of a company who were responsible for producing poisoned food, but who escaped justice by the police. In subsequent videos he threatens revenge on a company employee who humiliated a man in a job interview, and others. His brand of vigilantism soon gains a following and he becomes an online celebrity. Meanwhile the detectives assigned to the case race to follow the clues to uncover the identity of the figure, or figures, known as the “Paperboy”. The film begins with an intriguing and simple set-up, but the audience is soon introduced to the character of Gates (Tomo Ikuta) and his friends, the young men responsible for the “Paperboy” incidents, and given a details examination of their circumstances.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura does a great job with the film. In particular keeping the narrative fresh throughout. Not only with the twists and turns of the central police investigation, but by turning the genre on its head and showing us events from the perspective of the perpetrators. Far from undermining the mystery, it instead turns the film into a battle of ideals. On the one hand Gates and his companions are justified, popular among a downtrodden citizenry, champions of justice, respect, and many noble ideals. However, Erika Toda’s detective is also a sympathetic character, fighting sexism, and clinging to her own idea of what constitutes right and just actions. In fact it becomes clear that the central villain of the film is perhaps society itself. The way that humans cluster together for both positive and negative reasons. We see staff at a company bullying a temporary worker, and how the same instinct causes people to rally to the “Paperboy” cause. The script sets up a number of fantastic scenes that demonstrate these concepts and build on them, while never losing sight of the main plot. The acting is superb, especially Erika Toda as the detective, and Toma Ikuta as “Gates”. The supporting cast of Gate’s friends, Kohei Fukuyama, Ryohei Suzuki, Yoshiyoshi Arakawa and Gaku Hamada, are also fantastic and help to create a believable sense of cameraderie and emotion during their scenes together.

A fantastic film that is packed with ideas about justice, memetic culture, the power of internet movements, vigilantism, the structure of Japanese society, and in particular how this relates to the treatment of immigrants or outsiders. A far more thought-provoking film than the plot might at first suggest. The film-makers have used a common crime drama to explore many different themes and issues in society.

Based on the manga by Tetsuya Tsutsui

Dead or Alive (1999)

deadoralive

The film’s opening sequence knocks you over the head with its rebellious attitude. Intercutting between a strip-show, cocaine snorting gangsters, a shoot-out, and an apparent suicide, are coming at you so thick and fast that it is overwhelming. Once the narrative proper starts there is a clear intent to shock, with bestiality porn shoots, a horrific death involving an enema, and several other alternately horrific and hilarious set-pieces. The central story involves a feud between gangster Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and police detective Jojima (Show Aikawa), though it is hard to say that is what the film is truly about. Rather that rather staid plot is used as a canvas for director Takashi Miike to create a work that is troubling and humorous in equal measure.

Director Takashi Miike’s “Black Society Trilogy” established his reputation as a talented film-maker, with an exciting, politically conscious take on the Yakuza genre. With Dead or Alive, Miike again tackles many of the same issues, but there is something different in “Dead or Alive” a punk aesthetic that is typified in the extreme opening and closing sequences of the film. It almost feels as though Miike is attempting to sabotage his own work, although it might be politer to suggest he is creating a post-modernist masterpiece. There are a number of fantastic scenes here, building character and back story, and Takeuchi and Aikawa give incredible performances throughout. During the interrogation scene there is an almost unbearable tension between the two leads. Watching a Miike film you are aware that he is fully in control. If he wants you to feel panic, dread, to laugh or be shocked or even upset, he can, casually confounding your expectations throughout. The film is such an eclectic mix of slapstick and gross out humour wrapped around a core of serious crime drama that it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Miike almost seems to be suggesting that he could make a great Yakuza epic if he wanted, but is constantly distracted by some wild or hilarious idea with which to toy with the audience, or perhaps it is all a commentary on the film industry, or whatever else occurred to him that day.

Miike delights in taking well-worn stories about cops and gangsters and turning them on their heads. There is social commentary here, on crime, the treatment of women, immigration and more, but it feels as though the whole thing has been through a blender. It is a kaleidoscope of ludicrous over-the-top moments, sombre family drama and scatological humour. Obscene, bizarre, satirical, at times emotionally raw, it is a film that pulls no punches.

Destruction Babies (2016)

destruction babies film

Destruction Babies begins in a port town where Shota (Nijiro Murakami) sees his brother Taira (Yuya Yagira) involved in a fight with a large gang. Needless to say the outnumbered Taira is being badly beaten before the gang are forced to run by the arrival of another villager. Shortly after, Taira leaves town and begins a journey of violence, attacking random passers-by in the street on a seemingly pointless personal quest to disrupt his environment. His antics soon attract the attention of another youth Yuya Kitahara (Masaki Suda) who joins him on this mission to violently assault strangers. They also kidnap a hostess named Nana (Nana Komatsu) who also becomes involved in their activities.

Directed by Tetsuya Mariko and written by him together with Kohei Kiyasu, the film is clearly designed to shock. Occasionally you will be subjected to musical accompaniment that sounds like someone threw a drum kit and an electric guitar into an industrial shredder. Hidenori Mukai’s score is purposefully offensive, and in keeping with the tone of the film. The film constantly pricks your conscience by letting you inside the life of this disturbed individual. The camera follows Taira around the streets, searching for victims, making it clear that you cannot escape him, while at the same time making no attempt to explain him. While the story of Taira is fascinating, the tale of his brother is less so and there is an uneasy sense that there was a message there that never quite became clear. Despite its plot and reputation (described as “extreme”), the film is actually a surprisingly polished drama. With beautiful cinematography and a score that is perfectly chaotic, though veers just to the right side of listenable. The acting is good throughout. Yuya Yagira gives a quite disturbing performance as Taira. You are never quite sure if he’s suffering some sort of mental health issue, or just enjoys scrapping and being badly injured. Masaki Suda is extremely unlikeable as an outrageous stereotypical teenage boy, obsessed with sex and violence. Nana Komatsu also gives a heartfelt performance as the shoplifting hostess who gets swept up in their world.

The marketing for the film describes it as extreme, but I feel as though this may have been an in-joke. The fight sequences are undoubtedly brutal as we hear the wet clatter of fists on increasingly bloodied physiognomies, but to see this simply as another violent film would be to miss the point. It is actually a commentary on violence and societies reaction to it. It is a difficult watch, not because of the various scenes of people being pulverised, but because of the apparent pointlessness of it all. It’s hard to describe the plot of Destruction Babies as there seems very little purpose to anything that is going on. But on reflection this is exactly the point. One character later on comes to this realisation, a little too late for him, that what they are doing is meaningless, and that perhaps people should take a step back and consider their actions. The violence gives them some form of escape, of self-expression, but in the end he can’t see what he is trying to do. Not an easy watch, but there are some enjoyable moments. It is a film that will perhaps be unfairly dismissed as another purposelessly bloody film about teenage tearaways. It may also be criticised for not going far enough in its punk sensibilities and being more disturbing or outrageous. Personally, I found it a difficult watch, a little overlong, but one that certainly demands consideration. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like violent films with a satirical edge, this is just the ticket.

Rebirth (2011)

 

 

The film begins with a woman being tried for the abduction of a baby four years earlier whom she has until this point raised lovingly as her own. The real mother of the child is distraught but the woman, Kiwako, seems to show no remorse for her actions. Jumping forward to her early twenties, the young child, named Erina, is continuing normally with her life when she is befriended by Chigusa, a young woman of a similar age who seems to know a lot about her. The film moves back and forth to tell the story of Kiwako and the child she abducted, renamed Kaoru by her, and the adult Erina who is trying to find her own way in life.

This film is expertly plotted with a lot of well-thought out characters which resonate with each other, particularly the figures of Erina’s father and her much older lover. Similarly a contrast seems to be drawn between the real mother Ritsuko and Kiwako. The story is driven by a number of twists and reveals and relies on some powerful acting by the main cast which really helps show their thought processes. The music is light and fits well with the films quiet contemplative mood and the cinematography is first rate. The scenic shots in particular are fantastic.

This film is an interesting watch and throws up many ideas about relationships, in particular maternal affection. Covering everything from loss, infidelity and abortion this film is careful not to be overly bombastic but to portray things fairly realistically which in turn makes it more powerful. Deserves the praise it was lauded with on release this is an incredibly gripping drama.

Based on the novel by Mitsuyo Kakuta.

Out (2002)

Out

Four women working nights at a package lunch factory are confronted with a problem when one of them kills her violent husband. Her friends agree to help her dispose of the body and must act quickly to avoid being caught. The four leads each have problems of their own; Yayoi is a young pregnant housewife, Masako feels isolated being ignored by her son and husband, Yoshie has to care for her disabled mother, and Kuniko is deep in debt. Despite, or perhaps because of these problems the four all pull together to accomplish this difficult task.

The actors do well with the eccentric characters and there are scenes of real emotion here. The films main failing is that it doesn’t really work as either a comedy or a horror but falls somewhere in between. A few of the comedic moments are funny, but the women never seem in danger of being caught. The film is based on a novel, but due to running time ends up excising most of the plot to the point that very little is explained in detail and the ending feels tacked on.

The story is centred on the lives of the four main women and their stories are interesting, particularly Masako and Yoshie, but again not enough time is given to exploring their feelings. The film does do a good job of expressing the sentiments of the drudgery, loneliness and meaninglessness of existence for many modern housewives and there are amusing moments. The concept here is strong, but it could have been done much better.

Based on the novel by Natsuo Kirino.

Villain (2010)

 

Villain, Japanese, Crime, Film

The film begins with a bright young university student, who is unexpectedly killed early on. From there we follow the aftermath of this tragedy and the consequences it has on her family and her killer. The man responsible for her death, Yuichi, begins a relationship with another girl, and decides to flee to attempt some semblance of a normal life, knowing that he is entirely culpable for the murder.

The film is beautifully shot and, excepting a few over-the-top scenes, the acting is also good. The film is very much a character piece, with the focus being on the impact of the young girls death on those around her, and is generally well-done. Occasionally, scenes seem to have no bearing on the main thrust of the plot and sometimes it seems overlong, but when it focuses on the leads it is quite powerful, particularly towards the end.

The film rests on a central premise: can a killer ever be forgiven or find redemption for an inexcusable act, although the ending is as shocking as the opening death with an entirely unexpected denouement. It also looks at themes of culpability and revenge, with another character indirectly responsible for the girls death, and the boys grandmother receiving similar vitriol to the killer.