A Yakuza In Love

Dir: Rokuro Mochizuki
Star: Eiji Okuda, Yuna Natsuo, Shunsuke Matsuoka, Yukio Yamanouchi

It says much about this film that the hero's preferred romantic technique involves stuffing copious quantities of drugs into the object of his affection, then kidnapping her. Even more remarkably, this works: if ever they do an American remake, Harvey Keitel would be great as Kinichi Sakata (Okuda), a mad gangster left to fend for himself after his boss drops dead. Sakata, with admirable conviction, takes off on a mission to kill the man he feels is to blame for his boss's death, despite the fact that the rest of the gang has sidled across to join their former rival. Then there's his relationship - if date-rape and kidnapping counts - with former waitress Yoko (Natsuo), who has taken his fancy. The pair's dysfunctional relationship makes Mickey and Mallory Knox look like Lucy and Ricky.

Politically incorrect? Hell, yes. But the weird thing is, it still works: even as Sakata gets ever more screwed-up on shabu (the Japanese version of speed/meth) he remains a tragic hero, and it's a testament to Mochizuki's direction that this violent, misogynistic thug is still... Well, "likeable" might be pushing the boat out, but sympathetic is certainly credible. Sakata is about the only honourable figure in the film, albeit with an utterly twisted morality. He isn't "bad", he just doesn't know any other way, and keeps on towards his goal with dogged determination, even as his life collapses about him. In contrast, Yoko is barely-sketched, memorable more for her enthusiastic sex scenes, which reflect Mochizuki's background in the adult industry. But on the whole, this is strong film-making, with a fascinating character at its heart.

[This film was released on December 20th in the US; the DVD also includes an interview with the director, another one with Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes, and a documentary on Mochizuki career in gangster films. For more information, visit ArtsMagic's website.]

January 2006

Love hurts
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