Takeshi Miike’s Shinjuku Triad Society has a Chinese triad and the Yakuza mix it up over some illegal organ trafficking business resulting in lots of guys getting beaten, shot, stabbed, eye gouged, and drugged. Not satisfied though with merely depicting a typical gang war punctuated with extreme eruptions of brutal violence, Miike solidifies this as required viewing for all real fans of crime films by throwing in the cop who plays by his own rules!
Anyone who is initially put off by the subtitles or the fact that it’s set in a foreign country should be comforted by this development and recognize that this isn’t one of those sissy, artsy foreign crime dramas where doves fly around in slow motion or where the hero sheds a big gooey tear when his partner dies or who is haunted by some failure in his past. This is a movie where the hero sodomizes one of the bad guy’s girlfriends in an effort to get information from her!
But don’t get too down on Detective Tatsuhito for his gross abuse of human rights. Everyone is a sick, demented scuzz involved in any variety of activities that will make you wince.
Wincing is good of course. If I’m busy wincing when one of Tatsuhito’s cop buddies is interrogating a suspect for him by engaging in a technique that I’ll politely describe as “doggie style encouragement” then even though I’m turning a bit green, I’m definitely not bored!
And speaking of all-male doggie style activities, one thing I never realized about the Yakuza and the triads were just how gay they all are. I don’t say that as any sort of pejorative, but only as an observation gleaned from what went on in this movie. This movie had to have the most all-male oral sex scenes of any movie not involving performers named Bruce, Max, or Cougar.
Maybe that was to be expected when the whacko crime lord at the center of this grimy, violent storm was named Wang. Wang is a Chinese guy who fled Taiwan at the age of fourteen after killing his father. He settled down in Japan and got himself a job running a mob dedicated to matching up organ donors with prospective recipients.
Is Wang really such a bad guy to want to help out needy families of two different stripes? There’s rich families that need a healthy kidney for their kid and there’s poor families who need some fast cash and just happen to have an extra kidney lying around in their kid’s gut. Sounds to me like Wang is just making several families’ dreams come true. He’s in the happiness business just as much as in the illegal trade of underage organ business.
Tatsuhito becomes obsessed with bringing down Wang though I think it had more to with saving his gay brother, who through his job at a law firm becomes mixed up with Wang’s organization, than it did with the organ stuff. Tatsuhito has some elderly parents who are worried about his brother and he feels obligated to try and extricate little bro from his burgeoning life of crime.
Tatsuhito’s investigation into Wang and his brother’s whereabouts somehow finds him taking on about twenty Yakuza guys at their club. He gives a pretty good account of himself against the first five or six guys, but it’s the next fifteen dudes that cause him problems.
Beaten within an inch of his life and drugged up, he’s dumped into a trunk and sold to Wang who is hoping that Tatsuhito has taken good care of his kidneys and corneas.
Just when all hope seems lost for Tatsuhito, he gets rescued! But, by whom? Why the girl he sodomized earlier! Obviously, the gritty existence in the Japanese underworld is a bit different than what we would probably recognize as normal.
Apparently, the whole sodomy episode was merely a second date for these two. (The first date would be when she was arrested following the murder of a cop and she told Tatsuhito she would give him information if he would “do it” with her. Tatsuhito isn’t a dirty cop though, so he smashed her face in with a chair.)
But what could have made this gal so enamored with Tatsuhito and his unorthodox courting techniques? It turns out that during that episode of forcible sodomy, it was the first time she had an orgasm without being high! I think it’s safe to say that director Miike, much like his cop protagonist, plays by his own rules.
Tatsuhito, with his new girlfriend’s help, recovers enough (despite her continuing demands to “do it”) to embark on a final bit of R&R (Revenge and Rampage) and hunts down those responsible for his plight.
Miike adopts a pretty straight forward approach to shooting this movie and there’s not a lot of scenes that merely exist to show off someone’s camera technique. His focus is on the unrelenting brutality of this world and he rarely lets up on it.
This isn’t a movie where you’ve got big name actors strutting around posing and dropping one liners on you that are designed merely for the trailer. Its style derives from the events as they play out and while you could say those events are sometimes extreme to the point of being unbelievable, it’s all about context.
For instance in the context of Wang’s world, it wouldn’t necessarily be out of the question for him to run around flashing rival crime lords as a show of disrespect. A bit tacky, yes. But unbelievable? No.
Shinjuku Triad Society‘s a vicious crime epic that refuses to compromise or glamorize what it portrays. There’s no redemption or validation to be found in its conclusion. It’s merely about whose capacity to absorb and mete out violence is greater than everyone else’s. This, the first in a loose trilogy of crime flicks known as The Black Society Trilogy (Rainy Dog and Ley Lines follow), is the kind of Miike stuff that put him on our radar, and deservedly so.
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