Sunday, 24 July 2011

Blackmail Is My Life

Hokey 60s crime drama which sees a proto-Hustle team extort and blackmail their way through a series of a small jobs before landing the big one - and getting in over their heads; caught in the crossfire between a corrupt politician and a powerful loan shark.

Not much to recommend this really; the story is risible, the acting ligneous, and it's dated horribly - from the grating, jangly soundtrack to the painfully stylized camera work. Fukasaku doesn't deploy the freeze frame technique once or twice, he uses it throughout the entire movie as short-hand for flashbacks, or sometimes, just for the sheer hell of it. Coupled with wobbly pull back shots and randomly interspersed black and white segments, it's enough to make the viewer feel ill.

It also has some of the most laughable death sequences I've seen. Zero summons up the strength to throw three punches at thin air before collapsing theatrically, then, in the film's final sequence, Shun spills several buckets of red paint over a zebra crossing before uttering the priceless closing line; "what a stupid way to go". I couldn't agree more.

Dir. Kinji Fukasaku, 1968

Friday, 8 July 2011

Tokyo Decadence

After my previous foray into pink cinema turned out to be more rewarding than expected, I thought I'd give this one a spin, especially since Ryu Murakami wrote the novel on which Miike's Audition was based.

Now, Rotten Tomatoes, among others, would have you believe that this is a savage indictment on Japan's sex industry and the hypocrisy of society at large. I can believe that may have been Murakami's intention, but the end result is a bit of a mess.
At a couple of points it threatens to take an interesting turn; the claustrophobia of low-lit hotel rooms and shadowy, sadistic salarymen inviting seedy revelation, but proceeds instead to stumble through a series of rather tame, and deeply unerotic S&M scenes. The closest we get to a coherent, if less than subtle, social agenda is in the scene at the dominatrix's apartment, where she says something like "Japan is a wealthy country, ill at ease with its wealth; this breeds anxiety and masochistic tendencies, which I exploit for money". But ironically, she herself is dominated by a crack addiction. See the bigger picture? Nudge, nudge.

Our heroine, in a constant state of trepidation and desperately in need of a personality transplant, is Ai (Japanese for 'love'), played by Miho Nikaido. Ai is very much the submissive type, and I think we're supposed to feel for her and the debasement she is forced to endure. The trouble is I don't - I just find myself thinking, you've chosen to work for this agency, you keep going to the jobs... the only one that proves too much for her is being asked to recreate the murder and rape of a woman at the foot of Mount Fuji by a necrophiliac screening an image of said mountain onto the wall of his hotel room. The movie basically implodes in the final act - a seemingly stoned Ai wanders around the suburbs looking for her ex-lover (now married) in a white smock and a pair of yellow high heels. She lets fireworks off on someone's drive way, she falls off a ladder, she is serenaded by a mad old dame in a playground and hallucinates her tormentors. Then she goes back to work.

Dir. Ryu Murakami, 1992

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Bodyguard Kiba

Even the most ardent Miike fan would struggle to salvage anything praiseworthy from this low-budget thriller come karate flick, hamstrung as it is by a muddy colour palette and poor production values. It may appeal to fans of martial arts, but personally I have no love for that genre.

The story is pretty cliched: small-time player Junpei betrays his Yakuza clan, the Soryu Group, and stashes away ¥500m before being arrested and doing 5 years in jail. After he is released, he aims to pick up where he left off with his old flame and recoup his ill-gotten gains, but realizing his former boss will be out for blood, he hires Dojo master Kiba to protect him. On returning to Tokyo, the Soryu Group's apparent kidnapping of his girlfriend leads him on a rescue mission that isn't quite all that it seems...

Any Yakuza film that features virtually no guns, where scores are settled by hand-to-hand combat, is pushing the bounds of credibility. That the villains then line up, one by one, to be round-housed into unconsciousness, just adds insult to injury. The film also has a very 80s feel to it, consummated in the faintly ridiculous final sequence, when the score bursts into a saxophone solo as the end credits roll.

Dir. Takashi Miike, 1993