|Plot Outline: Mario (Teah) is a Brazillian toughguy with only one love in life, and that is Kei (Michelle Reis). Kei, who is Chinese, is rescued by Mario after almost being deported. After the daring rescue the two take refuge in the Japanese underworld where they encounter powerful Chinese syndicates, traditional Yakuza groups and a series of Brazillian gangsters also lying low. Being that the two have no passport (I believe Kei’s is ruined after being pierced, but the story isn’t exactly easy to grasp) they have to attain a boat to leave Japan to continue their lives, but this isn’t going to be easy. The local Russian who deals in such things wants 18 million yen and our loving couple just don’t have that kind of cash. So, along with a bar owner friend and a local roughneck, the two devise a plan to steal a large amount of cash from a drug deal between the Chinese syndicate and Yakuza outfit. Things go awry when a suitcase of cocaine is accidentally stolen, but selling the dope is the least of their worries. The leader of the Chinese group is an old flame of Kei’s, and despite her lack of interest, he still aims to rekindle the relationship. On the other side of the coin, the Yakuza who is out looking for his cocaine also happens to be a lunatic who quickly does away with the yakuza hierarchy and names himself leader. In between it all lies Mario and Kei, both still trying to find their way off the island.|
The Review: City of Lost Souls is the one Miike film I know of that is generally disregarded by the majority of people you talk to who have seen it. Until re-watching this morning, even I was repeating the same line. It’s almost like you can’t mention the film without giving a huge warning on the fact that the film is lacking the violent, or even perverse nature of most of Takashi Miike’s more popular films. I know it’s what the man is best known for, but if you’re expecting to have fun with this film on any level, you’re going to have to drop and presumptions on what you expect from Miike because of his reputation. City of Lost Souls isn’t a completely large departure from films like Ichi the Killer or Fudoh the New Generation, it just doesn’t take the spurting geysers of blood route that those films happen to take. City is a combination of a whole lot of things. Bonnie & Clyde through the vision of a mad man. Miike, as mentioned, doesn’t include a lot violence or the usual gross-out visuals he’s mostly known for, but he does make a more action oriented film than you might be used to from him. His editing and cinematography is even more rambunctious and off kilter than usual. My first opinions of City have now all but disintegrated upon second viewing, although going into the film the first time with absolutely no expectations of violence, I still was somehow let down by the film. I think somewhere deep down I still harbored some idea that there would eventually be something really crazy or violent. I don’t know, but on my second viewing with all the knowledge I had of the film, I managed to actually enjoy it for what it is. It’s a fun and incredibly entertaining action film, completely unlike anything else out there. After the first ten minutes where we watch our lead character walk into some Brazillian bar, shoot everyone inside and then walk out and strip nude while dust cloud blow all around him, it’s pretty much a jumping point for a strange and wholly entertaining story. The best advice I can give to anyone watching it for the first time is to throw away all misconceptions about the film and just let it take you where it wants. City certainly isn’t Miike’s greatest achievement, but I think it’s well deserving of more praise than it generally gets. It’s a journey film, and although the characters don’t go very far in the film, the characters they meet along the way certainly give it the feeling of a road movie. If you need only one reason to see it though, I guess the CGI Chickens would have to do.
I don’t really know much about Takashi Miike, I’m still holding out on buy the book Agitator about him, but it seems Miike must have some sort of interest in foreign influence on Japan. From this film here which features several spoken languages and a cast from many different regions, to Dead or Alive and the portrayal of Chinese Gangsters vs. Japanese Yakuza or even Ichi the Killer where Alien Sun speaks English, Chinese and Japanese for no apparent reason. The huge cultural environment in City just seems like another building block in an apparent interest on Miike’s behalf, but who can be sure of his intentions. The film is actually taken from a book, and although I would imagine the conflict between ethnicity’s are in there, I tend to wonder what all Miike brought to the film. I have a hard time imagining how a book might translate a scene in which two people jump out of a helicopter hundreds of feet in the air only to land in a back alley building totally unscathed. You can only trust Miike and his absurdity to deliver the basic premise of the story and I think he captures it, although not without a few bumps. For one, there are a lot of excesses in the film that you’re bound not to catch on first viewing, but that isn’t much of a complaint. The largest manhole in the story though would be a lot of the things that never really are explained. It’s as if the pace of the film is so incredibly fast that even the story can’t completely keep up with it. In the end though, it all comes down to a certain style the film evokes. It’s not necessarily a film where you have to hang on to every tiny bit of dialogue but it’s also not a film about big explosions catered to braindead morons. It rides somewhere in between the suave storytelling of an art-house film and the relaxed atmosphere of a goofy fun action film. Miike does the action on a much smaller scale than anything from Hollywood or even most of Hong Kong, but his action is lightning quick and full of cool posturing. The film obviously takes some jabs at the style of The Matrix (although not at all) including at least one overly played out reference, but it’s all in good fun. That’s what makes the film so hard for me to find fault with. As far as an action film goes, it doesn’t even have that ‘master of all things’ grace to it that a John Woo film has and I feel the need to give it less scrutiny. In the end, it may not be a huge accomplishment in Miike’s career, but it’s a fun, energetic and completely cool film. It’s important to have the right mind-set before watching a film such as it.
As has been mentioned already in the review, Miike runs amuck with style in the film. He, as always, breaks down barriers in film that you may or may not have even known existed. He nearly always keeps the pace moving at break-neck speeds, but he doesn’t shy away from slowing things down to give the audience a chance to figure out just who is who and what is what. In what is probably the biggest technical achievement in the film, presents one incredible long and complex crane shot. Starting inside of a restaurant, we follow the man inside as he goes from the front desk to the outside of the building in a mannerly fashion. This already was quite impressive in my eyes, but once the camera is outside we just sit patiently as we listen to a voice-over monologue from Teah, Michelle Reis and Atsushi Okuno (as Carlos). Two drunk women sit on the sidewalk and we watch as a bicycle passes us, at this point the camera then begins to levitate. Up until the camera started to float I didn’t even know it was a crane shot, but I knew something was special. The crane takes the camera up to the second floor where we reveal our three actors going over the monologue we’ve been hearing in voice-over the whole time. It’s not the most amazing long-take I’ve ever seen of course, but after it was over I just thought to myself “How in the world did they squeeze that into THIS film?”. In the same film where we are introduced to our lead characters through a spliced together action sequence with punk rock hammering over the soundtrack, we are given a beautifully orchestrated cinematic dance such as this. I know I sound like a fanboy right now as opposed to an objective reviewer, but I couldn’t help but feel completely impressed by the mixing of styles and talent of Miike and his crew. The actors involved in the film were all up to task with me, even if there isn’t a lot of hard drama in a film like this. Teah who stars is actually a soccer player I think, but my knowledge of the sport is limited essentially to the fact that I know it’s a lot like hockey just without the sticks. If it’s true, he’s actually a great athlete turned actor. His role in Dead or Alive 2 only cemented my feelings that he looks pretty tough with a gun, and he proves that most effective in City of Lost Souls. His character doesn’t really talk a whole lot during the course of the film, but he’s more than applicable to have his trigger finger do the talking. Teah tends to shine brightest during the shootouts (even though don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t in John Woo’s territory), but as an actor I thought he put off great charisma and frankly the guy just looks cool. No getting past it. Michelle Reis, who he plays opposite to, is just amazing in the film. Now, I’m not particularly commenting much on her performance, but on the fact that she’s one of the most beautiful women I have ever laid my eyes on. She truly is gorgeous and her character is actually quite tough for a film like this. Just see the scene where she spits fire and lights a man’s head on fire, with silly CGI effects included! The rest of the cast are mostly made up of bizarre characters who just help the fuel the story. Although the main villains are quite effective, like the sadistic Ko (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), leader of the Chinese gang and with about as militant followers you can get. Then you have Fushimii (Koji Kikkawa) with the Yakuza who is just an absolute lunatic, I would go in detail about his insanity, but all is revealed in the film. All the characters are memorable though, even those who don’t have a booby trapped ping pong table, oh, but I’ve said too much.
I wouldn’t go so far as to use the cliché “just turn your brain off to enjoy it” to describe City of Lost Souls, but I do believe you can’t go in with the wrong expectations or you’re bound to be disappointed. It’s not an art-house film like Audition, it’s not a over-the-top bloodbath like Ichi and it’s not like much anything out there. It’s a crime film told the way Miike tells one, only with a more exhilarating feel to it. It’s still not in my top five list of films by the director, but it’s certainly a lot higher than before my second viewing. I’m giving the film a four rating. I just feel it reaches the peak of entertainment, but it’s not a ‘classic’ in my defined sense of the word. Take it however you want, but don’t listen to the detractors and don’t listen to those who call it his greatest work. Certainly don’t take my opinion as gold, just watch it and trust yourself. Jeez, I feel like a self-help guru now.