Ley Lines

Three childhood friends embark on a journey to escape their small town life in the finale of Takashi Miike’s tour-de-force of grim that is his Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, Ley Lines).

Following our introduction into the dark world of the “black society” by Shinjuku: Triad Society and the continuation through Rainy Dog, Ley Lines completes the trilogy by bringing to life another thematically related story. Continuing the shared subjects of seedy underworld existence and racial and cultural displacement, Ley Lines moves the focus to a younger generation as we see the disenchantment of modern urban life this time through the eyes of new generation of “half-breeds.”

As the culmination of the series, Takashi Miike returns to the more overt issues dealt with in the initial Shinjuku which Rainy Dog glided over in favour of gently absorbing character driven drama. Though still containing the harsh realities of the sexual and violent nature implicit in the criminal underworld, Ley Lines is the more comparatively upbeat of the loosely linked series. This is attributable to the shift towards a younger generation which, with their foregrounded heritage, Miike makes good use of by interspersing languid nostalgia with brutal reality. Following on from the worldly-weary Rainy Dog, Ley Lines seems relatively positive with the unshakable hope of youth.

Though the story of a small and tightly knit group of friends isn’t new or unique, Miike brings his own recognisable style to a scenario familiar the world over. With his trademark mix of styles he brings his familiar touches of humour and surrealism to an otherwise typically harsh slice of urban realism.

Much like its two predecessors, Ley Lines is similarly un-Hollywood in its portrayal of the criminal underbelly. Like Shinjuku and Rainy Dog, it provides an unpleasantly true-to-life glimpse of a veiled world which many would not choose to be faced with without the release of engineered plot conventions or manipulated characterisation. However, Ley Lines is occasionally considerably lighter in tone than the first two films, with coloured lenses, long takes and some very French sounding music adding an all-round lovely glow to the proceedings. As Miike isn’t one to shy away from the harsh realities of life, the warmingly lightweight lust-for-life scenes of random enjoyment only serve as a further height from which to plummet these doomed souls.

It is no accident that the trilogy should be completed by going socially full circle. From the gruelingly harsh Shinjuku to the numbingly sad Rainy Dog, Ley Lines, with all its shabby romanticism of delinquent youth, serves a more serious purpose. From its opening the scene is set for some unsettling and deep-seated cultural and racial problems that course through the film, just as in the others, forging an alliance with other issues bubbling under the surface of society.

In Ley Lines as in the Black Society Trilogy as a whole, Takashi Miike has produced films every bit as excellent as they are unsettling. Disturbingly raw but rewardingly honest, the trilogy is must-see for those who wish to look beyond the Western branding of Miike as purely a perveyor of the bizarre. A wonderfully gritty movie


Rainy Dog

A down on his luck Yakuza, shadowed by an unhinged cop and a vengeful gangster, finds solace in a make-shift family in this, the second installment of Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society, Raint Dog, Ley Lines)

Unrelated in all but theme and tone, Miike’s central work in his unapologetically downbeat trilogy sees criminal figure, Yuji (Sho Aikawa), play out his own story in a similarly gritty style to that of its predecessor, Shinjuku: Triad Society. Set this time in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, Rainy Dog focuses once more on a harsh and de-glamourised criminal underworld existing uncomfortably but firmly in the tips and veins of modern society. Though less kinetic and more dramatically involving than the first film, Rainy Dog shares its hopelessly brutal melancholy in a typically candid portrait of an unsavoury, and frankly depressing, underworld existence.

It never rains but it pours for unlucky protagonist Yuji. Like a fish out of water, he survives by butchering and lives by killing in this dismal portrayal of urban realism. With the same relentlessly downbeat tone as Shinjuku, Miike rains almost constant tropical downpours on our ill-fated hero, adding yet more drab tones to his grim mix. Whilst, like Shinjuku, Rainy Dog looks at a sense of belonging, the focus on drama rather than action sees the theme of fulfillment come more to the fore. With a peculiar tone of something and nothing, Miike makes serious and troubling issues blend into the background of each characters lonely quest for almost attainable happiness derived from simple existence and interaction. In his typical bucking of generic trends, Miike makes a strange success of playing down the stronger issues of sex and violence and instead opts to use these as a way of drawing out the underlying emotional issues for these deeply unhappy individuals. Just as the violence is strong, quick and matter of fact, the sex is devoid of any emotion or even lust and is born from a deeper need for a fulfillment on an entirely different plane. In a film so bleak in its entirety it is this concern which is at its core; characters who are constantly striving to accomplish something so seemingly simple but without really knowing what that is or how to obtain it.

Where Shinjuku and Rainy Dog do share some similarities in theme and tone (the grim realism of a life you’d never wish for, the drab hues, the issues of cultural disengagement) Miike’s directorial style differs. Where the former contains his trademark frantic editing as a perfect showcase for the fast-paced violence and hectic chase sequences of a life on the run, the latter opts to let the unremitting rain form the structure for this human drama. With almost imperceptible emotional changes, the three leads form the gently touching bonds of lost souls in limbo, searching within each other for some crutch of stability on which to base a semblance of happiness. Drawn inexplicably to each others restless search, the dysfunctional trio of Yuji, his recently acquired mute son Ah Chen (played with brilliant proof that an understated performance can speak louder than words) and prostitute Lily (Xian-Mai Chen) make an ill-fated bid for their own version of happiness in Miike’s strangely rewarding if harrowing presentation of the innate misery in human nature.

Another gruelling installment in Takashi Miike's excellent but troubling and loosley linked trilogy. Powerful and drenched with the sadness of de-sensitisation, this is about as un-Hollywood as the crime genre gets. Another honestly accomplished


Shinjuku Triad Society

Tatsuhito (Kippei Shiina) a “dirty cop” is on the trail of gay Triad warlord Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi), who leaves a trail of sickening crime in his wake. In persuit of this particularly slippery gangster Tatsuhito comes to test his own limits and is forced to confront some painful familial and social issues.

In this first edition of Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society,Rainy Dog, Ley Lines), Shinjuku Triad Society makes for some very bleak and complex viewing. Delving into issues way below the surface of its subtitle Chinese Mafia Wars, this story of shadowy underworld dealings is a very raw and unforgiving look at the seedier side of Japan’s criminal underbelly. Filmed in a variation of styles including hand-held, Miike’s camera gives a relentlessly gruelling insight into a gritty and downbeat world where good and evil don’t exist, where there is only bad and worse.

Shinjuku opens with a typically kinetic sequence with some fast-paced crime and some dodgy sexual exploits interspersed with shots of Japan’s hectic club life as the DJ provides the tempo in a nod to Miike’s self-professed style of direction. The frantic pace slows however as we become engaged in our protagonist Tatsuhito and his persistent pursuit of warlord Wang. It soon becomes obvious that our hero Tatsuhito is more of an anti-hero in a scene of such sudden and unprovoked violence that for a moment you are stalled in total disbelief. Policemen of questionable morals are of course not unusual subject matter in film but where we are more used to a character composed of entirely immoral or amoral leanings, like Bad Lieutenant for example, Tatsuhito is less usual in the way we can still relate to him and empathise with his cause. This is of course aided by the absolutely reprehensible Wang, whose vile criminal deals and strange private life convey a character next to whom most people would compare favourably.

What unfolds from this cat and mouse tale of hunter and hunted is far more than a gritty police drama. Away from all the usual glamorising or stylising of the genre, Miike reveals with honesty an unsettlingly grim way of life which is both fascinating and repellent. Surrounding the abhorrent and multifaceted exploitation are some very sensitive and deep seated issues concerning race, identity and sexuality in a society so honour bound as to become a little neurotic about its repressions. This is absorbing from a Western-eye view and a brave move on Miike’s part to depict with unflinchingly brutal honesty such seldom portrayed concerns. Shinjuku is therefore pretty violent and sexually graphic in keeping with its realism and almost utterly bereft of any humour or similar cinematic tool to break up the unrelenting grim. Miike is clearly making no apology for this no-holds-barred representation of the reality of contemporary Japanese life and underworld associations. The screen remains as realistically shadowy as the unpleasant dealings and is a drab and bleak as the mood.

Shinjuku is a refreshingly raw if difficult piece of viewing. Ceaselessly demanding on the viewer, it rewards you with the realism gleaned from a rare view of a world stripped bare and sodomised like one of Miike’s unfortunate characters. This isn’t what you would necessarily describe as “entertainment” in a popcorn-munching beer with your mates on a Saturday night sort of a way, but it is thoroughly enthralling, thought provoking and directed with such bare-bones honesty that it is a must-see for anybody wishing to look past Hollywood and to a darker side of crime. You may want to have this one with a stiff drink though.

An excellent if harsh and difficult piece of cinema. Fascinating and distressing, it’s every bit as enthralling as it is reprehensible. An honest, brave and accomplished film from Miike once more proving he's no one-trick pony


The Bird People In China

A Salaryman and a world-weary Yakuza travel to a remote part of China in search of Jade, only to discover a life so far untouched and so far removed from their own that it effects them each in unexpected ways.

Takashi Miike has become rather a household name in the cult movie circles these days thanks to the increasing popularity of the Asia Extreme cinema, famed for its raw and frenetic violence and disturbed narrative. I myself have come to know Miike through this very strain of film and so you can just imagine my surprise when I happened upon The Bird People In China. With all its promises of “a haunting and poetic masterpiece” and such like it was certainly an intriguing contradiction in terms of director and subject. With such an interesting premise I couldn’t help but wonder if Miike would pull it off.

What followed was nearly two hours of what must be the gentlest film I’ve ever seen, and certainly one of the loveliest as the story takes its own time meandering along just as the tracks do in the heart-stopping mountain scenery. This film is so serene that by the end you feel as if Miike’s sung you a lullaby that’s crept up on you in such a way as you’d hardly even noticed. But this isn’t a pretentious nothingness and neither is it a sickening slice of whimsical pap. It’s actually a very delicate and well-observed view on some very humane issues like national identity, communication and a sense of belonging and heritage. Miike crafts these issues with a calm hand and a sensitive eye which, for all its patient observation, is not so blind in pursuit of charm as to neglect the realism which made similar films such as Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God so well respected.

Bird People is of course full of analogies and metaphors and messages of worldly importance, the theme of finding riches of a far less tangible nature when on the trail of material wealth is certainly nothing new in cinema. In this instance, however, we have it without the ham-handed Hollywood approach of inexcusable preaching. What we do have is a considerate story handled with humour and genuine affection as we are left free to observe the subtle changes of our three protagonists. Like three wretched stooges, Wada (Masahiro Motoki), Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi) and Shen (Mako) manage to stay the right side of bumbling buffoons thanks to skilled direction and acting. ? in particular, with his almost imperceptible descent into well meaning madness is so accurately portrayed as to be utterly convincing in terms of being both tender and darkly frightening at the same instance. It is at these times that we see a glimpse of Miike’s directorial heritage with some surreal and blunt violence, which makes you wonder if he just couldn’t help himself but in the context only adds to the realism in the otherwise utopian feel.

It’s very hard to fault this film. It’s a pleasure from beginning to end and the only real fault really lies in that it had to end at all, just as you realised you’ve lapsed into the dreamy Miike lullaby state. The extremely slow pace won’t be to everybody’s taste, and it’s certainly a departure from the Takashi Miike beaten track, but just when you thought he’d taken off on a peculiar flight of fancy, he goes and makes a perfect landing.

A subtly endearing fairytale-like adventure which soars with ease to the heady heights of a near perfect.


Takashi Miike, best known for cult classics "Audition", "Ichi the Killer", and "The City of Lost Souls", redefines the Spaghetti Western with Sukiyaki Western Django, a tale written in blood. Two clans, Genji, the white clan led by Yoshitsune, and Heike, the red clan led by Kiyomori, battle for a legendary treasure hidden in a desolate mountain town. One day, a lone gunman, burdened with deep emotional scars but blessed with incredible shooting skills, drifts into town. Two clans try to woo the lone gunman to their sides, but he has ulterior motives. Dirty tricks, betrayal, desire and love collide as the situation erupts into a final, explosive showdown.

View the US trailer in Quicktime at apple.com/trailers  

View the teaser in Quicktime: High | Low

View the second teaser in Quicktime: High | Low

Official Japanese site | North American Website | Myspace 

Via: www.sukiyakimovie.com/


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