Takashi Miike's 1990s yakuza trilogy comes to Blu-ray from Arrow Video as THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY.
A trio of films with no relations other than the experiences of the children of half-Japanese "war orphans" in Japan and Taiwan, THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY commenced with SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY in which the investigation of police detective Tatsuhito Kiriya (Kippei Shîna, OUTRAGE) into a Chinese gang that is muscling in on yakuza illicit business ventures is complicated when he discovers that his brother Yoshihito (Shinsuke Izutsu) is working for the lawyer who pulls strings for the gang's leader Wang (Tomorô Taguchi, TETSUO: THE IRON MAN). As Wang mutilates and slaughters his way through his enemies – with the help of his knife-happy gay lover and Karino (Takeshi Caesar, FULL METAL YAKUZA), the former henchmen of Wang's main rival (Ren Ôsugi, AUDITION) – Kiriya takes advantage of an extradition trip to Taipei to look into Wang's background and discovers that, in addition to smuggling drugs and supplying Chinese girls to Japanese brothels, the local hospital Wang so nobly sponsors is actually a front for organ harvesting for wealthy Japanese buyers and that he may be the next unwilling donor.
In RAINY DOG, the assassination of his Japanese boss makes it necessary for hitman Yujiro (Shô Aikawa, GOZU) to lay low in Taipei and take jobs from local crime boss to raise money for a fake passport while wiling away his time with bored prostitute Lili (Xianmei Chen). When a one night stand from several years ago drops eight year old son Chen (Jianqin He) into his lap, he barely tolerates the boy's presence, ignoring him as he follows him around the city and letting him sleep in the alley beside his hideout. When Yujiro takes out target Ku Chiping, the man's hitman brother Ku Feng (Billy Sau Yat Ching, PROJECT A2) makes an offer to the local crime boss to take over his brother's operations and contract killings if he will give up Yujiro. When Yujiro discovers that he is being targeted, he goes into hiding with son Chen and Lili.
In LEY LINES, half-Chinese juvenile delinquent Ryuichi (Kazuki Kitamura, KILL BILL VOL. 2) causes a scene when he is unable to get a passport to escape to Tokyo because he has is a minor and on probation, so he decides to enter the country illegally along with his friend Chan (Tomorô Taguchi, A SNAKE OF JUNE). In spite of his concern about who will take care of their parents, Ryuichi's studious brother Shunrei (Michisuke Kashiwaya, SÉANCE) goes along with them. No sooner do they arrive than they are robbed by Chinese prostitute Anita (Dan Li, GHOST ACTRESS). When they are approached by Ghanaian toluene dealer Barbie (Samuel Pop Aning, GODZILLA: FINAL WARS), the trio start working for his boss Ikeda (Shô Aikawa, DEAD OR ALIVE) as dealers and stealing fuel for the drug's production. After Ryuichi and Chan are tortured by Ikeda's competitors, the trio – along with Anita who has since been raped and badly beaten by a sadomasochistic client – decide to raise money fast to skip the country for Brazil and wreak a little vengeance on their enemies at the same time. Their recklessness, however, soon has them on the run from Ikeda's men and his yakuza rivals.
All three films are rather loosely structured in terms of narrative but seem to riff on, respectively, the crime film, film noir, and Japanese sixties youth picture genres, and they perhaps are best enjoyed as a trilogy rather than three individual Miike works. All three have fatalistic attitudes and downbeat endings, but they are so in keeping with the formulae of their respective genres that they are never as bleak and despairing as they appear. All three also possess examples of Miike's trademark weirdness: SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY has an eyeball-ripping, arterial-spraying throat trauma, and demented gay characters – as well as a nymphomaniac (Eri Yu, GEMINI) whose nose was broken by Kiriya but who comes to his aid after he gives her a real orgasm – RAINY DOG has Yujiro pissing off the top of a roof with his member optically censored with animated scribbling and doggedly pursued by a crazed Japanese rival (Tomorô Taguchi, WOLF GIRL), while LEY LINES's protagonists are just as quirky as the supporting characters including Chinese gangster boss Wong (Naoto Takenaka, SHALL WE DANCE?) who pays Chinese prostitutes to recite fables from his home land. In spite of the distance created by the genre elements, the main characters of all three remain warm and sympathetic even on their worst behavior (Kiriya brains a female suspect with a chair just before the title card splashes across the screen on SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY).
Previously released in the UK by Tartan and in the US by Artsmagic – the latter boasting exclusive audio commentary tracks by Japanese film expert Tom Mes (author of AGITATOR: THE FILMS OF TAKASHI MIIKE) as well as interviews with Miike and editor Yasushi Shimamura (ONE MISSED CALL) – the three films that comprise THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY come to Blu-ray through Arrow probably looking as good as they can given Miike's aesthetic choices and the high definition masters provided to them by the licensor. In its 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer, SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY retains the greenish hue and sometimes overly warm skintones that seemed like transfer faults in standard definition but appear to be intentional here as the green is most apparent in settings with fluorescent lights like the police station where it adds an oppressive quality to the interiors as the grayish overcast look does to the exteriors. RAINY DOG's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer has a more neutral color balance with grayish overcast exteriors and stark interiors. LEY LINES' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks the most impressive of the three with its use of bold neon reds and blues as well as some graduated filters. The LPCM 2.0 stereo tracks are clean and crisp with music getting the most spread on all three apart from some gunshots and a couple other directional sound effects. The optional English subtitles distinguish between Japanese and Chinese dialogue, with the latter in brackets on the first and third film and Japanese in brackets on the second film.
The three Mes commentaries have been carried over, but in place of the old Miike interviews is the brand new "Takashi Miike: Into the Black" (45:07) in which the director recalls his childhood love of Bruce Lee and the way movies can fascinate audiences with people no longer with us (Lee having been dead months before the Japanese release of ENTER THE DRAGON). For lack of anything better to do, Miike attended a vocational film school program run by director Shohei Imamura (A MAN VANISHES) and would serve as assistant director on ZEGEN and the acclaimed BLACK RAIN (not to be confused with the Tony Scott film made the same year) leading to his first directorial efforts as part of the Japanese V-Cinema direct to video movement as well as his first experiences with the old guard's filmmaking-by-committee methods (SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY was a theatrical release but it was approached with the V-Cinema aesthetic). Miike discusses the three films and their principal cast members (Shîna was a difficult but intense performer, Taguchi was in a punk band, while musician Aikawa was the most adaptable), the influence of producer/pseudonymous writer Toshiki Kimura (who would also produce Sion Sono's COLD FISH), the changing face of the Yakuza in the nineties, as well as working in Taiwan and hiring Taiwanese actors in Japan. He describes the trilogy as rough gemstones, the kind of which he feels he is no longer capable of making. In "Show Aikawa: Stray Dog, Lone Wolf" (21:42), the singer recalls getting into acting by way of another musician who recommended him for a television series which lead to a string of collaborations with director Banmei Takahashi (ZEN), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (PULSE), and then Imamura with THE EEL through which he met Miike. RAINY DOG and his cameo in LEY LINES (which he recalls humorously) lead to the DEAD OR ALIVE trilogy (forthcoming from Arrow Video), GOZU, and ZEBRAMAN films with Miike. The discs also include trailers for all three films. Not provided for review are the reversible cover artwork and the booklet included with the first pressings of the individual Blu-ray and DVD sets. (Eric Cotenas)
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