Ley Lines (Blu-ray Review)

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18 – 105mins – 1999



“Go home if you don’t like it!”

Two years after Rainy Dog, Takashi Miike closed out his uneven and indecent Black Society Trilogy with another hard-hitting drama exposing the disreputable underbelly of his home country. Sick of being bullied and treated like outsiders, three optimistic Japanese youths of Chinese decent (among them Kazuki Kitamura, who would go on to star in Hollywood action sequel The Raid 2) move from the countryside to seek their fortune in Tokyo… and end up falling foul of the trigger-happy boss (Naoto Takenaka) of a city crime syndicate.

“Some come to this country to work like dogs, some come to commit crimes…”

I admire Miike for tackling a subject as deep and divisive as the issues of assimilation faced by the non-ethnically ‘pure’, as well as the dangers of idealism, but on a technical level Nihon kuroshakai (the film’s Japanese original title) also showcases a broadening of his filmmaking talent.

There is an increase in experimentation with cinematic flourishes (edits, colour filters… a shot from the POV of a vagina) as well as unexpected but welcome flashes of black humour (rolling up a car window will not shield you when faced with the barrel of a gun; “We’re saying goodbye to this shithole!” one of the over-eager protagonists shouts, before falling off the roof to little more than the turn of a head from his pals).

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Frustratingly, these alienated “small fries” – who befriend Anita (Dan Li), a hooker from Shanghai, push drugs and buy a firearm in their pursuit to fit in to the figurative big ocean, before realising they should flee to Brazil to escape their escalating troubles – are beyond naïve, tipping over into ignorant, unsympathetic and unlikable. For instance: the shy, purportedly intelligent youngest member says to the injured Anita, post-rescue: “You gonna pay me back with your body?” Ergh.

It is increasingly apparent that Miike likes the camera close to his actors. A plethora of further common themes from Shinjuku Triad Society and Rainy Dog also return again in Ley Lines: Aggressive sex, sadistic creeps, drugs, bloody violence, blue squiggles and pissing in the street – so it’s safe to say this final film is not for the squeamish or easily offended, but by part #3 you should already know what to expect!

Ultimately, despite suggestion of promise, Ley Lines fell shy of the expectations Rainy Dog indicated. While the bond the surrogate brother’s shared was so strong as to imply a sixth sense that they intuitively knew when one of them was in trouble, all too often they were hapless fools, and such crass behaviour made their tragic plight less engaging.

Image result for ley lines 1999Accompanying the remastered film on disc two of Arrow Video’s recently released, meticulously packaged Special Edition trilogy boxset is a commentary from the director’s biographer, Tom Mes, an original cinema trailer and two long-form subtitled interviews (totalling approximately an hour) with Miike himself and actor Show Aikawa.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

With thanks to Fetch Publicity for the check discs.

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