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Shinjuku Triad Society
cast: Takeshi Caesar, Kyosuke Izutsu, Ren Osugi, and Kippei Shiina

director: Takashi Miike

100 minutes (unrated) 1995
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Artsmagic NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Shiraz Rahim
With such releases as Audition and Visitor Q, Takashi Miike has steadily gained popularity and prestige in the US, and his Black Society Trilogy proves that this reputation is well deserved. Shinjuku Triad Society is the first part of the trilogy, and I found it to be a rather interesting and entertaining piece that I believe other Miike lovers will surely enjoy.

The movie takes place in the small Chinese town of Shinjuku where the local police raid a club and capture several suspected gang members from the town's largest gang, the Dragon's Claw Society, after finding a decapitated body outside the club. A local police officer named Tatsuhito Kiyari leads the investigation and tries to find the gang's leader, Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi, an actor whose exceedingly brilliant performance shows that he has a promising future in Japanese cinema). As he gets further into his searches, he discovers that his brother Yoshihito is Wang's close assistant and becomes bent on killing Wang and his group while simultaneously making sure his brother takes no more part in the gang's plans. At the same time, Shinjuku is experiencing a mob war between several of the town's major gangs as they all rival for supremacy in the region. Kiyari becomes caught in this conflict as he drives himself toward the Dragon's Claw Society. The movie then spirals into Kiyari's attempt to find Yoshihito and kill Wang.

The magic of the movie lies in its simplicity as well as the drama behind the plot. During this entire ordeal, several 'love' stories fill the plot, including Wang's love with a homosexual teenager and Kiyari's love for his brother. The film thus becomes somewhat of a twisted love story where everything that happens by the end is done out of love. Several of the scenes become heart wrenching, and while Miike's core elements remain intact, especially the violence and sex that usually distinguish his movies, Miike also adds emotion into the plot that made me connect with the characters. I found Miike's extraordinary ability to make even a violent, yakuza film into a genuinely emotional film a huge credit to his skills as a director and an enormous asset for this movie. Miike's further ability to distort each of the characters proves to make the movie very interesting. Kiyari transforms from a mellow, peaceful cop into a man ready to rape and murder in order to achieve his goals, and it becomes rather difficult to side with any one character in the movie or distinctly distinguish which of the film's characters is truly the protagonist. For several minutes after I watched the movie, I continued to ponder on this subject, and I feel that any film that leaves you analysing its plot and thinking deeply into its meaning is definitely well made.

Besides this, the film poses several very philosophical and cultural questions. Kiyari is a Japanese man living in China, and much of the film examines his detachment from Chinese society. He fills this severed connection from other people in Shinjuku with his family, spending a great deal of time with his aged mother and father. The movie thus also becomes a look into the importance of family in society, and Kiyari's search for his brother and attempt to free Yoshihito from the dangerous Dragon's Claw Society shows how truly necessary familial ties are in a society full of betrayal, crime, and violence. Miike fans will be thrilled to find that many of the typical themes and motifs present in Full Metal Yakuza, Ichi The Killer, and several of Miike's most famous films.

The technical aspects of the film itself are rather superfluous since they don't add or hinder the movie as a whole. The picture seemed rather grainy and dark, though this simply adds to the feeling of the film being about a violent gang and Kiyari steady transformation into a darker figure. The film also contains several interviews with the editor of the film as well as Miike himself which prove slightly entertaining and informative; having never before seen an interview with Miike himself, I found that it provided a great look into the director's life and personality. Along with this comes an extremely interesting commentary by Tom Mes, a hardcore Miike aficionado, who provides an even more in-depth look into Miike's styles, themes, use of colour and lighting, and much more of the interesting meaning behind many of the film's aspects. For those becoming acquainted with this rising Japanese director, the commentary is a must-see that is sure to tip borderline fans into outright Miike lovers.

Overall, the film is absolutely astounding and definitely worth watching. Its great extras, amazing presentation, and fantastic plot make Shinjuku Triad Society one of the best Japanese films I've ever seen.
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