1995, NR, 105 min. Directed by Takashi Ishii. Starring Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, Naoto Takenaka, Jimpachi Nezu, Masahiro Motoki, Koichi Sato, Jinpachi Nezu, Kippei Shiina, Toshiyuki Nagashima.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 24, 1998
Now that everyone seems to have had their fill of the works of John Woo, Tsui Hark, and other Hong Kong action directors, it's time to move over to Japan, which is experiencing a sort of film renaissance of late, particularly in the genre of the old yakuza films, a gangster subset that first came of age in the mid-to-late Sixties. This new offering from Ishii, a longtime-manga (adult comic book) artist-turned-film director, is a case in point: It's not unlike classic Peckinpah in its dizzying, migraine-inducing depiction of operatic, slow-motion violence, but at the same time it operates as an unconditionally Japanese film, rife with Nipponese references even as it borrows its blood-soaked cues from everywhere else at once. Bandai (Sato) is a Tokyo nightclub owner in deep with the Japanese mob, which is led by a decidedly psychotic Ogoshi (Nagashima). Unable to escape from under his massive debt, Bandai hooks up with a cross-dressing hustler by the name of Mitsuya (Motoki), and together they round up a wayward group of like-mined individuals to take on Ogoshi's thugs and assassins once and for all. What follows is a terrifically choreographed dance of death, with ammo rounds entering and exiting flesh with wild abandon, and aluminum Louisville Sluggers flailing away upon skull after skull after skull. Testosterone to the nth degree, Ishii's film might have been relegated to the dust heap of Eastern action films were it not for the blazing turns by his performers (most notably Takeshi “Beat” Kitano as one of Ogoshi's merciless assassins and Naoto Takenaka as Ogiwara, a disgruntled salaryman with a sickly, molten core) and its stunning cinematography (which plays like Scorsese's worst nightmare on bathtub crank). Desperate images of desperate men committing soul-searing acts of violence just to stay alive, director of photography Yasushi Sasakibara drowns the screen in repeated shots of wet, rainy mayhem undercut with deep blues and reds. It's as if the movie had been shot on some sort of Tokyo Neon film stock, so eye-popping and eerie are the primary colors that wash over the screen. Not just another Asian shoot-'em-up by any stretch of the imagination, Gonin comes across as a latter-day update of early Sergio Leone thematics (many of which were originally cribbed from Kurosawa, truth be told) and the swirling, garish pop-cinematography of Seventies-era Dario Argento. It's a wild, deliciously unnerving ride, full of excessive everything, from the shell casings on down.