The Plot: The story begins in Shinjuku with the boss of a Yakuza crime family sitting in the hospital dying of cancer. The boss’ impending death scares the family and they think that when their rivals find out about it, they’ll take it as weakness and take over the territory. So, looking to make the first move, the boss’ son tasks Katsuichi Yomi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) with killing the rival gang’s boss. He is given a gun, arranges to be picked up by the law if he survives the attack, and begins his search for this rival boss. When he tracks the old man to a bowling alley, he goes in guns a-blazing. He takes out the old man (in front of his granddaughter, who’s face is splattered with blood) but gets mowed down by his bodyguards. When he arrives at the hospital, he falls into a coma. For the next ten years he lays asleep in the medical ward of a prison. When he finally awakens, the world has changed around him. His best friend Eto has run off with his woman, Ayumi, and the two now run a small time Filipino prostitution ring. Eto is in debt, and finds himself kidnapped by a group that he owes money to. Yomi, who everyone assumed would hunt down and kill Eto for what seems like betrayal, instead risks his life to save his former partner. The yakuza take notice of Yomi and decide they want him in their organization, making him an offer he can’t refuse. During this sordid tale, Yomi is going to have to battle his own personal demons, along with a crooked cop, the yakuza, and even the Taiwanese mafia.

The Review
Like so many people from my age demographic that are now into Asian cinema, Takashi Miike served as my gateway drug. If you visited Varied Celluloid in its earliest days, the majority of our discussions always seemed to be focused on this man. I spent the better part of the past decade watching his movies. Literally going through anything that bore his name; anything that I could possibly sit down and watch. I even bought a copy of Isola The Multi Personality Girl because he had a small cameo in it. Truthfully, if you ever watch that movie, you’ll learn he’s no more than an extra in it. Still, I was very dedicated to The Mad Dog of Japanese Cinema. In the past few years, however, I’ve slowed down my search for new films from this director. It was a natural progression (or regression) of sorts. I felt as if maybe I had dedicated too much time to his filmography, rather than branching out and becoming a more well-rounded viewer. There’s also that feeling of being burned out on his work, I can’t deny. I think I just needed to get out and check out other things, and maybe it’s the same for some of you reading this. However, despite feeling so burned out, every time I go back and watch something of his that I haven’t seen before – I am blown away by just how impressive a filmmaker he tends to be. With films like Sukiyaki Western Django and Zebraman, two films I didn’t actually expect to enjoy, I was reminded of why I focused so much of my time and energy on this director. He’s a brilliant filmmaker with the track record to prove it. Shinjuku Outlaws is actually one of his earlier films, and one that some people consider to be his first movie to represent a personal style. After watching the film, that’s a statement I can’t really argue with.

This comes from Miike’s earlier days, from his time in the V-Cinema market mainly. For those unaware, V-Cinema is more than just a Vidcast that happens once a month. V-Cinema is essentially a name for the Japanese straight-to-video market. This is a market made up of low budget Yakuza flicks, pink films, and whatever else sells. Shinjuku Outlaws, mainly due to its credit sequence, definitely reflects the V-Cinema budgetary restraints that one might expect. This is Takashi Miike though, so the audience can expect some artistic flourishes despite the lack budget or generic nature of the plot. This is early in Miike’s career though, so at this point he is still finding his voice. Because of this, the movie turns out to be a pretty by-the-numbers Takashi-Miike-Yakuza-Movie. Speaking for myself though, I am totally cool with that. Miike does a yakuza movie unlike any other Japanese director I know. So many of these movies seem to get torn to bits by their “day to day” take on the Yakuza lifestyle. Miike likes to really implement his own more interesting take on the genre. Whether it’s through neat character quirks or whatever it might be, I just don’t think I’ve seen a boring Miike-directed Yakuza flick. Although this particular film isn’t my favorite of the bunch that he has done, I will say that when Miike does a more subdued version of these films, and doesn’t shy completely away from genre conventions, he really shows how good a formula-driven story can actually be.

Although it doesn’t feature a lot of the more bizarre elements that have defined Miike’s filmic library for Western audiences, if you know the man, you’ll spot a lot of really familiar ideas that he would later expound upon. For one, Miike loves to include elements of foreigners striving in Japan. Movies like Shinjuku Triad Society, Blues Harp, and Dead or Alive might be the best examples for this motif. Shinjuku Outlaws is no exception, as it covers a section of Taiwanese gangsters looking to take over the Yakuza rackets. The most interesting use of this element is via the Filipino prostitute with whom Yomi strikes up a relationship. She’s in another country working as a prostitute for the mob, but at the same time she is a practicing Christian (alienating her further). She’s an absolute outsider, but Yomi feels compassion for her and sees his own relationship with the world mirrored through her. You can draw connections between this pairing with many of Miike’s lover-duos. Also, if you know anything about Miike, you already know that most couples in his cinematic crime world are usually doomed from the start.

Another Miike touch, one that’s got him in a lot of hot water before, is the torture of women. Shinjuku Outlaws brings this back with full force in a particularly nasty scene featuring a poor young woman being bashed around an apartment building. She is thrown down stairs, her head slammed into doors, she’s shoved, she’s punched multiple times, all before the violent beatdown concludes. This scene definitely stands out as it’s hard to see any real point to it, other than to maybe show how brutal this world can be. It’s a horrific moment that truthfully might not have been all that necessary. At the end of the day though, the scene doesn’t really make or break the movie as a whole. Just another reoccurring theme from Miike’s body of work. Surprisingly though, there’s really not a whole lot of Miike regulars, something I found surprising from an early Miike effort. Still, the cast here is very good for what the script calls for. That is to say, it doesn’t call for much more than solid line delivery and looking “hard”. This is an apt description for the entire cast, honestly. Everyone here is trying to play up their onscreen toughness, and they do a pretty good job of it. Hiroyuki Watanabe, who plays Yomi, really carries the movie well. He’s a stoic actor that sells the story with his on-screen charisma. I’ll also go out and say that he has a really interesting look. He has these wide eyes and defined face that make him someone to be remembered. He’s an actor I’m not really familiar with, but I wouldn’t mind exploring more of his movies.

One of the best segments in the movie comes during the final twenty minutes. It best resembles a mix between the Godfather’s baptism sequence and the opening for Dead or Alive. We see the Taiwan mafia using Kung Fu on their victims, literally dancing in the streets while shooting someone, and ending things with one of the best visual moments of the entire movie: a moment in which we watch a Taiwanese gangster urinate on a Yakuza, in broad daylight, before blowing his brains out at point blank range. If nothing else in the movie reveals Miike as his usual genre-defying self, it is this little montage. It’s probably going to pop up as most everyone’s favorite sequence in the movie, because the rest of the film can be seen as a rather generic affair.

The Conclusion
I think a lot of people might actually take a lot less from it than I did, especially those looking for something a little different from maybe Yakuza Demon. If you’re like me though, and you dig that aforementioned Miike title, then maybe you’ll get something out of Shinjuku Outlaws. It’s not a “great” movie, so I have a hard time seeing it as a four out of five. I think the fitting score is a proper three. It may be a high three, I certainly like it a lot more than just an average movie, but it is what it is.