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Young Thugs: Innocent Blood
cast: Koji Chihara, Sarina Suzuki, Yasushi Chihara, Kyosuke Yabe, and Yasushi Kitamura

director: Takashi Miike

108 minutes (unrated) 1997
widescreen ratio 16:9
Artsmagic NTSC DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by John Percival
Young Thugs - Innocent Blood (aka: Kishiwada shonen gurentai: Chikemuri junjo hen) is a partly autobiographical film by director Takashi Miike following three school friends, Ryo, Riichi and Yuji, as they enter the world of adulthood. In the fishing district of Kishiwada, part of the industrial town of Osaka, their prospects are either poorly paid jobs or being enforcers for the local yakuza. But here is where the three friends fit in, they are considered delinquents by their peers and even robbed their teacher before leaving school. In the poor town, life is tough but their friendship is strong. As each of them finds their own path their find that friendship challenged and they discover what is important.

This Japanese language release paints a pretty grim and odd view of life in one of the poorer parts of Japan. The characters live up to the Young Thugs title but have seemingly been bought up on a diet of violence. They carry weapons, kick seven bells out of each other, go home to lick their wounds and they start it all again when they see the same offending person. I am guessing there is supposed to be an element of over-the-top comedy to the violence, maybe to lessen the 'impact' or to show that what is disturbing to us is natural for their environment.

Despite the seemingly OTT violence, the film is actually quite well acted and bolstered by an intelligent coming of age story. Ryo dates Riichi and works washing hair in a salon. When an old friend is released from prison, Riichi finds him a proper job at a bar. Whilst working at the bar himself Riichi falls for call girl Nahomi and as he dumps Ryo and his old friends, he even loses the will to fight, but people still want to fight him. His friends, realising that life is more serious now, start getting on with their lives. As they start to figure out what is important they are bought together by a tragedy.

It is a strange experience when watching a film about a culture that is in many ways completely different from my own. I was unclear in some places about the comedic elements, were they supposed to be funny or would a better understanding of the culture give me a better understanding of the comedy? One thing I found funny that probably was not supposed to be is the polite taking off shoes of when entering a house. This seems to result in a brief pause in the dramatic stride of someone storming out when they have to put their shoes back on. The backdrop of the fishing district is quite grim and is in marked contrast to the standard images of busy hi-tech areas like Tokyo. While the characters are trying to find their way in the world, scraping a living with little hope for the future, the cast manage to convey great friendships and the sense of internal and external conflicts when it all goes wrong. All in all, Young Thugs - Innocent Blood is a thoughtfully filmed story of the leaving of childhood behind and becoming adults. Although a culture shock in places it is interesting to see a different side of Japan and the people who live there.

Extras on the disc include an interview with director Takashi Miike, a history of Osaka and its culture, plus some biographies.

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