I love when no-prestige 1990’s studio flicks appear on Criterion Channel – here in a revisionist black-and-white version. Much better than I first thought, made by an ambitious artist who got caught in the Hollywood crap machine. The new coloring and the passage of time help you see “the movie that was in the movie.”

In a WWII prison camp, Beat Takeshi is a sadistic guard led by humorless youngish Capt. Yonoi (the film’s composer, Ryuichi Sakamoto). Lawrence (Paddington 2‘s Tom Conti) is a prisoner who speaks some Japanese and represents the Brits, a bunch of sensible dudes until David Bowie (same year as The Hunger) comes along.

Cruel Story of Middle Age. A classy-looking narrative movie with tricky subject matter, feeling more like a prestige 80’s international coproduction than those late 60’s Oshima youth films. Cool rumbling music, and lots of singing, never as fun as the pub songs in the Terence Davies movies. The story is mostly survival tactics, power games, betrayals and brutality – strange that the lead actors were two rock stars and a comedian.

I thought everyone in Outrage had been killed except for one cop and new boss Kato, but here’s Takeshi still alive and I had to try to keep track of the various crime families again. This did turn out better than the original, but I’m still hoping Election and Drug War destroy ’em both.

People: Tomokazu Miura of M/Other is in charge of some clan, and young hotshot Ryo Kase of I Just Didn’t Do It and Like Someone In Love is his #2 man.

Takeshi and Kimura:

Takeshi teams up with scarfaced ex-rival Kimura with his two dumb-as-hell employees to wage war on these guys. Baddies are brought low by other baddies. Another clan is somehow involved. The Japanese Dr. Guggenheim (Akira Nakao, a regular in 1990’s Godzilla movies) is the first to die. Then lots more die. There is a brief appearance by a woman.

The Japanese Dr. Guggenheim:

We get two partner cops to identify with. Sourface Shigeta (Yutaka Matsushige of Last Life in the Universe) is the outsider who needs everything explained to him, and his sneaky balding corrupt partner (Fumiyo Kohinata of Dark Water) wants to start some shit and get the action going. Beat Takeshi shoots the balding guy at the end, after everyone else is already dead.

L-R: balding cop, sourface cop

A good variety of music, and the score has hints of Dead Man. Scenes end with fade-outs as if to provide space for TV ads. My main concern was listening to the language and noting that half of all sentences end with a sound like arrOH, or errOR. Fumi thinks it’s some kinda gangster embellishment.

Watched with Katy because of the Hunger Games connection. Kind of a not-so-great summer teen-action flick, but it’s still fun and interesting enough to justify rewatching. Also it’s got Beat Takeshi. Has the same-ish final line as teen deathmatch story The Long Walk (not counting all the weird special-edition dream sequences that follow the proper story, like a selection of extended/deleted scenes).

The Battle isn’t televised (even the gov’t overseers don’t have cameras, only microphones inside the kids’ explosive necklaces), and its very existence seems to come as a surprise to the kids, who don’t realize its seriousness until they’ve been in the island-arena for a while. Katy points out that this would make the Battle less of a deterrent than the Hunger Games – more of a personal vendetta by Kitano against his former students.

Mild, oft-injured Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and his sweetie Noriko (Aki Maeda of Gamera 3) are the survivors/escapees who head to the inferior sequel. They’re helped by Kawada (Taro Yamamoto), winner of a previous Battle forced to fight again. Fortunately, all teens in movies circa the year 2000 knew how to hack into government systems, so one group concentrates on taking down the surveillance machines, and Kawada figures how to remove the necklaces. The other “transfer student” is friz-haired Kiriyama (Masanobu Ando, the tough one in Big Bang Love), who signed up for the fun of killing people, finally blinded in an explosion set by the hacker group and killed in a machine-gun battle with Kawada.

Among the others: Chigusa (Chiaki Kuriyama of Kill Bill), evil gal Mitsuko (Ko Shibasaki, star of One Missed Call), and Nanahara’s best friend Kuninobu who gets killed by exploding necklace during Kitano’s introductory speech.

Another quiet movie with gangsters in it and quick bursts of excitement which ends up at the sea. The missing link (for me) between Fireworks and Dolls.

Young Masao ditches his gramma (Kazuko Yoshiyuki, star of Empire of Passion) and hits the road with a few bucks looking for his mother. A neighbor sees what’s happening and sends her ex-yakuza husband (Kitano) to look after him. Kitano/Kikujiro (for some reason, his name is withheld until the final minute) is generally bad-tempered, but still protective. He drags the kid to a racetrack and blows all their money, then spends the rest of the movie hitching rides.

Once they find Masao’s mother (she’s started another family), Kikujiro changes his tune, decides he needs to provide the kid with a pleasantly memorable adventure instead of letting it end in bitterness. So he recruits a hippie with a van and two bikers (Baldy and Fatso) for a camp-out weekend of games and costumes. It has a similar tone to what I remember of Fireworks, but more fun and without all the killing.

Senses of Cinema:

The narrative rambles along through a series of chapters, all laid out in advance with the key words featuring in a picture postcard opening. We wait for the moment to see just what is to occur that has produced the sometimes bizarre, sometimes banal images that eventually form a series of childhood memories.


What I find most congenial is the idea of a bad guy who does something good pretty much by accident, so that’s what I went with. It became the basic rule of the film’s game: good results accidentally coming from bad actions.

I tried to watch Violent Cop, but apparently if you rent a DVD, copy it to watch later, and then “later” lasts a decade, the disc won’t read anymore. Bummer, that. Didn’t think this would pair as well with Outrage, but I put it in anyway.

Shigeru (Kurodo Maki, later the computer-hacking straight man in Miike’s Detective Story) is a young, deaf, space-cadet garbage man who picks up a surfboard from the side of the road, repairs it and tries it out. A neighbor girl with big ears follows and watches. Two soccer kids first mock then copy him, while the regular surf bum kids watch him slowly improve and he gets the attention of the owner of a surf shop. He’s not some kind of surf hero though, just a quiet kid with a hobby, who gets reasonably good before he disappears into the waves one day, leaving the big-eared girl to send his surfboard out with the tide like a burial at sea.

Kitano’s third movie as writer/director, defying expectations after a couple of gangster flicks. IMDB’s claims that he got his painterly sense of composition and started caring about asthetics after his accident in ’94 is clearly bogus. This has got some slightly rough editing, and is more visually minimalist than Dolls or Fireworks, but the same artistic sensibility is clearly there. Ends with a real nice montage of outtakes and extra shots.

A gangster movie without any music or drama or fun – just a series of straightforward, low-key backstabbings and double-crossings, dry as can be. Its like Kitano, after being ignored for his previous trilogy (which I loved), is saying “you all want me to make violent gangster movies, fine” and making one without any excitement, like when fame-weary rock bands play self-mocking versions of the hit single they’ve grown to hate. Or maybe Kitano’s style has always been like this, and since it’s been a decade since I’ve watched Fireworks or Sonatine, I just can’t remember what they were like.

Takeshi, back in his element:

The plot just barely matters anyway. The yakuza chairman oversees families Ikemoto/Otomo, Murase and Sano-kai, all of whom want to advance their stations, but the chairman pits them against each other instead. In the end, simply everyone is dead except for Beat’s cop acquaintance and Kato (Tomukazu Miura of M/Other), former assistant to the head boss, now presumably the new boss himself. Makes me laugh that a sequel has been announced.

guy on the right is Ryo Kase of the new Gus Van Sant movie:

Supposedly Kitano’s character has a girlfriend or wife (Yuka Itaya of Sad Vacation), but really, women barely exist in this movie. As far as creatively violent attacks go, I had to look away when Kitano (on orders from his boss, Jun Kunimura of Kill Bill and Audition) performed amateur dental surgery on Murase (Renji Ishibashi, the gangster in Bird People In China, also town mayor in Sukiyaki Western Django) but I liked Murase’s subsequent scenes, looking silently enraged behind a face mask. My least favorite sidetrack was a wide-eyed African diplomat blackmailed to turn his embassy into a gambling hall.


Despite the cinemascope ratio, rarely do more than two people appear in the same frame. Maybe that’s an every-man-for-himself visual metaphor. These gangsters are certainly more solitary than, for instance, the ones in Johnny To’s Exiled.

First time I watched this, I thought of Miike as a provocative ultraviolent action and horror director, based on Dead or Alive and Ichi the Killer and Audition. Most people still do, of course, since his quieter films (Bird People In China), his children’s films (Yatterman, The Great Yokai War) and his oddball art films (Gozu, Big Bang Love) don’t get as much attention. It turns out Izo is one of the art films masquerading as an action flick, and with that in mind, I enjoyed it much more the second time around. There are accepted ways of shooting action scenes or dialogue scenes, and these are not they. Miike uses strange and varied techniques to suit his strange, upsetting movie.

Tom Mes:

Taking the final scene of Hideo Gosha’s Hitokiri – the execution of homicidal 19th-century samurai Izo Okada – as its starting point, this was never meant to be any old chambara, but a meditation on mankind’s eternal propensity for violence and destruction.

From the oft-repeated plot description:

We learn that among Izo’s various guises was a doomed soldier who had to leave his lover (Kaori Momoi) to fight in World War II. He spares neither Buddhist monks nor schoolchildren, and eventually, Izo confronts Mother Earth (Haruna Takase) herself.

“Acid-folk” singer Kazuki Tomokawa is incredible, even if I’ve no idea what he’s singing – I have the old Cannibal King version of the DVD with no subs during the songs. Izo is crucified at the start of the movie, and born at the end, so I’m afraid a simple plot description won’t cut it, even if the songs were some sort of commentary. Lots of fun along the way, as he destroys hypocritical institutions, slaying religion and government (Beat Takeshi Kitano plays the prime minister and Ryuhei “Nightmare Detective” Matsuda plays the emperor), and a big fight with muscular black samurai Bob Sapp (a former Minnesota Viking) is an oft-cited high point. But he also spends lots of time killing innocents, moving down the weary ghosts of WWII soldiers, getting badly hurt and slow-morphing into a red-eyed demon as the frequency and repetition of the fight scenes start to wear on the audience.

That repetition is why many people seem to hate this movie. It’s accused of being slow and overlong, which I would partly agree with, but it’s more varied and interesting than the also-slow Sukiyaki Western Django – and even that one I expect will improve on a second viewing. Tons of cameos significant to people more familiar with Japanese cinema than I am. Learned from Midnight Eye that the soldiers stabbing Izo to death in the opening scenes are Kenichi Endo (father in Visitor Q) and Susumu Terajima (Takeshis’).

Ben Sachs:

To begin with the obvious: Izo is one of the most difficult works of art to be made in recent times. . . . The film is pure theme and variation, deliberately lacking consistent rhythm or sense of progression that would allow you to enjoy it casually. Still, nearly every sequence boasts some fascinating juxtaposition—between character and decor, between dialogue and action, in the way images are ordered—that makes it consistently striking to watch, if something of a slog to keep up with.

The final film in one of the most enjoyable and satisfying trilogies of the decade, following the somewhat-rough Takeshis’ and the glorious Glory to the Filmmaker. Unfortunately, nobody else seems to enjoy these movies. When I searched online for info on this film, the most positive sentiments I could find were along the lines of “hooray, now that this nonsense is over, Kitano can get back to making movies worth watching.” And nobody I know personally will even watch them so discussion is nil… they are just my own private joy.


Totally different from the previous two, this one tells a linear story about a single character, Machisu, a painter. Constants in his life are a complete lack of critical or financial success, and people in his life dying (usually of head trauma), all of which Machisu tolerates silently with an impassive expression. Very self-deprecating (portrait of the director as a lifelong failed artist, a slack employee, a bad father), but I see some value in Machisu’s persistence, his single-minded refusal to stop painting, even the persistence in his suicide attempts at the end, which he finally combines with his painting. Maybe the movie was trying to show that this persistence is stupid, ridiculous, but I’m gonna read it my own way.


Starts out sometime post-WWII, maybe the 50’s, classically shot with your standard orchestral movie score, with Machisu the grade-school son of a rich banker father (Ren Osugi of MPD Psycho, Charisma, Fireworks) and his younger wife (Kanako Higuchi). Everyone from the parents to the teachers to the bus drivers indulges the boy’s painting whim and let him do what he likes. Bank crisis leads dad and mom to kill themselves (separately) and Machisu is shipped off to uncle Akira Nakao (of a buncha Godzilla movies) and aunt Mariko Tsutsui (of One Missed Call). Now uncle wants him to do housework, teachers want him to pay attention in class, and bus drivers won’t stop and let him paint them (as he’s leaving town, a bus kills a fellow painter, Machisu’s only friend).


Years later, Machisu is older and working at a newspaper press – now played by Yûrei Yanagi (of the Ju-on and Ring movies, but probably cast because he starred in Boiling Point, Takeshi’s first film as sole writer/director). Not sure how old he’s supposed to be – I’d assumed 20’s, but the actor is in his mid-40’s. Anyway, at his art dealer’s suggestion (he takes all his art dealer’s suggestions), he starts attending art school. He also hangs out with a group of over-enthusiastic classmates who try outrageous art projects, and dates a co-worker at the paper plant (Kumiko Aso, lead girl in Pulse). Two classmates die – one in a painting-by-car-crash experiment and one from suicide – and another goes on to fame (called “the Japanese Basquiat”, leading Machisu to study and imitate Basquiat). Machisu’s work is all imitation. He copies the styles of every artist he studies, one at a time, and if he manages to get a compliment on a painting he makes a pile of similar paintings. The dealer assures him none of this is worthwhile, and Machisu’s apartment becomes cluttered with his failed work. Meanwhile, some of his childhood paintings show up around town, sold by the dealer to gullible rich men as the work of unknown foreign master painters. It’s all a funnier and less shrill takedown of the art world than Art School Confidential.



In the third section, Machisu is finally played by our man Kitano, married with a daughter. His wife is an accomplice in his art projects, but the daughter is deathly embarrassed, finally leaves home and becomes a prostitute. People in general seem to have less patience for Machisu and his painting than ever before, and after the daughter’s death, his wife leaves him and Machisu attempts suicide – first by monoxide poisoning, then by sitting and painting in a wooden shack which he has set aflame. Rescued and bandaged from head to toe, he tries “found” art, picking a can off the street and trying to sell it until his wife comes by and picks him up.



The hundreds of paintings are by Kitano himself, which seems pretty monumental, even if they’re all supposed to be bad art. A cartoon intro (which explains the title) sets us up for disappointment, our hero never catching up with success because he’s always chasing it instead of setting his own path. The humor is dark when there is any. I think it’s a wonderful ending… just the sappy standard “walking into the sunset with girl on your arm” ending, but it’s a deserved bit of uplift after the last 15 minutes of failure and death that came before.


Kitano: “After my last two films, I’m approaching this one more seriously. Sometimes I want to make movies that pack audiences in.”


Recommended listening: Art Class by Superchunk