18 – 102mins – 1995
PEARLS BEFORE SWINE
Perhaps now best known for the gruesome 1999 torture porn paragon Audition or 2001’s iconic crime thriller Ichi the Killer, before his Western exposure and box office success, Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike was highly prolific in Japan’s straight-to-video “V-cinema” market. 1995’s Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia sensô (to give it its homegrown title) marked a major stepping stone in the outlandish director’s career: his first release for a major studio and his first release to receive a theatrical run.
Society is also the first in a thematic trilogy of uber-violent crime stories which showcase the hard-hitting underbelly of respectable Japanese society while also delivering a more mature and heartfelt message of familial bonds and assimilation regardless of race, gender or upbringing. Having been generously sent check discs of Arrow Video’s shiny new 2-disc hi-def Black Society Trilogy boxset by Fetch publicity, I will follow this post with reviews of sort-of-sequels Rainy Dog (1997) and Ley Lines (1999) in the coming days.
I must preface this piece by saying that extreme Japanese cinema is not my forte, so when these blu-rays arrived in the post it was something of a surprise – doubly so because Fetch obviously intended me to review a trilogy made in the 1990s for the 80s Picture House… *ahem* I am aware of Miike’s notorious reputation for bloody spectacle but had not heard of any of these films, so these reviews are based off a first-time watch.
“I know a love story that’s both sickening and sweet… that’s how love really is.”
Kippei Shiina plays Kiriya, a renegade, mixed-race police officer whose younger brother, Karino (Takeshi Caesar) becomes embroiled in the inner workings of a homosexual triad group. Kiriya intends to rescue his kin while hunting psychotic criminal Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi), a murderous, drug-using ne’er-do-well who traffics children’s organs. Needless to say, Society more than earns its ‘18’ certificate: this is not a film for the easily offended or faint-of-heart.
We open on a decapitated head intercut with images of society’s underclass (a crying child defecating in the street) and before long a gay gigolo is being forced to give a blow job in a stairwell, slicing open a police officer’s throat as he escapes arrest! As we proceed, prostitutes are assaulted during police interviews, straight men are raped while a third party interrogates them and cop killers are mad-eyed flashers… it’s hard not to agree when someone suggests “Shinjuku isn’t the best post.”
Lacking Hollywood’s budget and production quality, Society has a rough-edge even when upscaled to high definition. There’s an almost aqua-hue and definition-downgrading mist about the picture throughout, not that any of this can detract from the vulgar nastiness of the frankly hideous characters. For all of the press release’s assurances of a deeper meaning beneath the scummy surface, Miike’s penchant for shocking images and controversy-touting unpleasantness was unnecessarily excessive and diminished any grand intentions to a negligible missed opportunity, leaving me appalled at the loathsome abhorrence.
“Pus is coming out of my dick: this ain’t good!”
Released this Monday, Arrow Video’s Special Edition boxset does outstanding work of making a silk purse out of a swine’s ear. Society is accompanied by Rainy Dog on disc one, accompanied by a trailer for each feature and a commentary track by Miike biographer Tom Mes. The set features reversible cover art featuring original and newly-commissioned Chris Malbon artwork, while the first pressing includes an exclusive illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new essays on the content, from someone who clearly liked Shinjuku Triad Society more than I!
CR@B’s Claw Score: