| ||The Plot: The story begins in Shinjuku with the boss of a Yakuza crime family sitting in the hospital dying of cancer. The bosses impending death scares the family and they think that when their rivals find out about the shift change in the upper echelon of the group, that they’ll take it as their time to move in on their territory. So, looking to make the first move the bosses son turns to Katsuichi Yomi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) to kill the boss of this rival gang. He is given a gun, arranges to be picked up by the law if he survives the attack and starts looking for the boss of their rivals. 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 a medical ward of a prison. When he finally awakens, the whole 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 has himself in a decent amount of debt so on Yomi’s return he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, as Eto has been kidnapped by a group he owes money to and they are now looking to extort to get their cash back. 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 takes notice of Yomi and decides they want him in their organization and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Yomi will have to battle his own personal demons as well as a crooked cop, the mob and the Taiwanese mafia.|
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 climate of our discussions always seemed to be focused on the man. I spent the better part of the past decade watching his movies, literally going through anything bearing his name 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 really. 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 of his. It was just sort of a natural progression. I felt as if maybe I was dedicating too much time just 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. It think I just needed to get out and check out other things and maybe it’s the same for some of you. However, even after 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 of 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 just 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 what some consider his first movie that really represent his own personal style. That’s a statement I can’t really argue with.
This comes from Miike’s earlier days when he toyed around 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. A market place made up of low budget Yakuza flicks and some other strange exploitation. Shinjuku Outlaws
, mainly the credit sequences, definitely reflects that V-Cinema budget too. This is Takashi Miike so you can expect some artistic flourishes despite the budget or the importance of the project. However, this is early in his career so at this point he’s just finding his voice so by and large the movie turns out to be a very pattern 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 of. 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 movie. 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 – 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 kind of 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 through a lot of his movies. Movies like Shinjuku Triad Society
, Blues Harp
and Dead or Alive
might be the best example of this. 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 the little Filipino prostitute who Yomi strikes up a relationship with. She’s in this other country, working as a prostitute for the mob and at the same time is a practicing Christian. 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 throughout his filmography. Also, if you know anything about Miike and his films you can guess that most couples in his version of the 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 before finishing the beatdown in the bathroom. This scene kind of stands out in the movie as it’s hard to see any real point to it other than to show how brutal the world in which our characters reside is. It’s a brutal moment that truthfully might not have been all that necessary, at least the brutality of it surely wouldn’t seem 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 in the movie as far as Miike regulars goes, 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”. Which is an apt description for the entire cast honestly. Everyone here is trying to play up there onscreen toughness and doing 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. 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 this little segment with one of the best visual moments of the movie as we watch a Taiwanese gangster urinate on a Yakuza in broad daylight before walking away from him and 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 it is sort of a ‘by the numbers’ affair. That’s what the movie comes down to though really.
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 Miike title, then maybe you’ll get something out of Shinjuku Outlaws
. It’s not a perfect 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 just is what it is.