Young Thugs:
Innocent Blood

Dir: Takashi Miike
Star: Koji Chihara, Sarina Suzuki, Yasushi Chihara, Kyosuke Yabe

They say you can't go back to where you were born, but Miike gives it a shot here. He comes from Osaka, Japan's second-biggest city (also home to Shonen Knife, baseball stars Hideo Nomo and Kaz Matsui, and violinist Midori), and for this coming-of-age tale, deliberately hired a local cast and crew. It follows three kids, recent departees from high-school - calling them "graduates" would be given them more credit than is deserved - who then go on to inhabit a grey area, lurking between society and organized crime. Sure, they beat people up; but they also worry about an ill mother, etc.

The problem with the film is mostly a script that never decides on which character to focus, so ends up falling awkwardly in the middle. Instead of a solid structure, what this depicts is almost a string of unconnected incidents, with the multiple threads giving an impression disturbingly similar to soap-opera. Plus, any time you rely on a bolt of lightning as a plot-point, you are in deep trouble. The actors, thankfully, are better, and give the film an emotional heart that the material lacks. Miike is his usual, assured self, and there were some neat touches, such as the way the same show is always playing on TV.

In the end, however, there isn't much to remember here, and being honest, it comes across as more of a self-indulgent trifle than anything. The most interesting facet is that it's a rare Japanese film with a genuine, specific sense of place. I often find myself forgetting that Japan is an island (when was the last time you saw the sea in a Tokyo-set movie?), but here there's enough to give some local flavour. It's a shame some of the other ingredients are so bland.

[This film is released on October 26th in the US, and October 30th in the UK: the DVD has an interview with the director, filmographies, and background info on the city of Osaka. For more information, visit ArtsMagic's website.]

October 2004

Blood - yes. Innocent - no
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