The folks at Arrow have been doing a great job of delving into Japanese cinema in the last year or so, and they are at it again with Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy; a loose trilogy of films dealing with honor, love, loneliness, and finding one’s place in the world. My old fiend, Shane Migliavacca of The Cathode Ray Mission, joins me to take a look at these violent lil’ nuggs showcasing the evil that men do!
Miike is a director that can make a film on an ultra low budget and then go on to do his next film as a slick, large budget affair, not to mention hopping from genre to genre, all while keeping his odd ball sensibilities front and center. Really there’s nobody quite like him out there. The only one that comes close is the late Jess Franco, and in many ways Miike is Franco’s spiritual successor (and much like Franco, good ol’ Miike can be hit or miss). I’ve seen a far share of Miike films that are fantastic and an equal amount that just don’t hit the mark. So does this trilogy score a bullseye, or does it miss the target altogether?
First up in the set we have Shinjuku Triad Society. The film follows half-Japanese/half-Chinese cop, Tatsuhito and his one man war on the Wang’s Triad in the Shinjuku section of Tokyo. Having grown up in China and looked down upon for his mixed heritage, Tatsuhito takes some pleasure from giving the Triad a hard time. Things get complected when his younger brother Yoshito, fresh from law school, starts representing the local Triad leaders.
The next film in the trilogy is Rainy Dog. This film deals with Yuuji, a Japanese Yakuza living in Taipei. He works for the local Triad as a hitman after being banished from the Yakuza and disowned by his family. It’s not much of a life but he manages to keep going. Then one fine day a woman Yuuji doesn’t even remember shows up with a boy in tow…their son, the result of a fling he forgot about. Being that she’s a terrible mom, she leaves the boy, Ah Chen, with him and heads for the hills. At the same time, the brother of Yuuji’s latest hit comes gunning for him. Before you can say Leon, Yuuji and Ah Chen are on the run and bonding.
The final film is Ley Lines; a weird mash up of the cray-cray of Shinjuku Triad Society and the gritty drama of Rainy Dog. Family, mixed heritage, and sense of self are the themes here too. Half-Japanese/half-Chinese brothers Ryuichi and Shunrei, along with their wacky (read mentally handicapped) pal Chang seek to escape their dismal rural Japanese town. They eventually end up in the seedy underworld of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. They get ripped off by a Chinese prostitute and end up working for a small time Walter White selling a chemical called Toluene that gives a quick high. The three hatch a plan to get enough money to book a boat to Brazil and start a new life, but being a Miike crime film, we know how that’s going to turn out.
The first is the best of the bunch for me. Shinjuku Triad Society is loade with the kind of crazy, over the top characters and situations you’d expect from a Miike film (for instance within the first few minutes of the film we see a cop hold up a severed head, grinning like a loon). Rainy Dog while not being a bad film, did tend to drag at the half way point, and there’s not much action or lunacy on display here. It’s a somewhat restrained picture considering who directed it. As I said above Ley Lines is a weird mash up of the other two films. It’s the strongest film here, and the longest. While all around better then the other two, I still dug the first film for it’s general insanity.
Arrow has done an amazing job here. Considering these films are from the late ‘90’s, they’ve done a bang up jump bringing them into the high def era. But I know what you really want to know is what swag do you get in this two disc set. Kicking things off are brand new interviews with director Takashi Miike, and actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines). Also featured are brand new audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes. Rounding out the package are theatrical trailers for all three films.
Overall this set is sweet AF. You get some of the gonzo cinema you’d expect from Miike, plus you get to see another side to his work; a more toned down, quieter side. If you’re a fan of Miike or Japanese crime films, snatch this sucker up.