Ley Lines is the final part of the Black Society trilogy from director Takashi Miike. Once more we explore themes of alienation and hopelessness as a trio of mixed race youngsters battle desperately to survive and ultimately to escape Japan. It seems everything is stacked against them in this depressing tale.
Ryuishi is the leader of the gang and the film opens with him and his younger brother Shunrei being bullied by some Japanese kids because they are foreign. Fast forward a few years and it seems little has changed as the Japanese state displays a similar racism towards a grown up Ryuishi, denying his requests to be allowed to travel. While Shunrei studies, Ryuishi cruises around on his moped in small town Japan, bored and disillusioned he hatches a plan to escape which starts with a journey to the big city.
Ryuishi and his hyperactive friend Chang travel to the city and Shunrei follows them. Within a day of arriving they are ripped off by a Chinese prostitute named Anita. The three realise they need cash to get out of Japan and so they begin to deal Toluene for a small time hood called Ikeda. They soon fall foul of a local warlord with a fetish for fairytales and Ryuishi is badly beaten. Desperate and with nowhere to go they find an unlikely sanctuary in the home of Anita and she too shares in their dream of escape.
The film is beautifully directed, lighting and colour are used to great effect here, as in the opening sequence of the boys walking along a beach with an industrial backdrop and a bright red sky. The settings are also excellent, capturing the grimy depravity of the big city and the stark poverty of the unwanted in Japanese society.
Although the film comes across as bleak and depressing there is some respite in the black humour. The period where the four main characters are living together in Anita's house seems almost a happy time for them. The awkward and impatient Chang is a constant source of amusement, as when he falls from the roof of the building only to jump up a few moments later apparently unconcerned about the gash in his head.
When Ryuishi hatches a plan and buys a gun you know things are about to get nasty and sure enough he intends to rob the insane warlord who humiliated him. It seems certain this plan will end in disaster but the four have few other choices and you can´t help but root for them.
The acting in this film is extremely good and so is the script. Kazuki Kitamura is brilliant as Ryuishi, a determined but somewhat naive character who constantly drives the others on. Chang is played by the Miike regular Tomorowo Taguchi and this is my favourite performance from him; simultaneously manic and very likeable. Dan Li is also very good as the downtrodden Anita; slapped around and used she retains her defiant spirit to the last. The quiet and sensitive Shunrei is played beautifully by Michisuke Kashiwaya, a real contrast to his hardened loudmouth brother. Another Miike favourite, Sho Aikawa pops up as the small time dealer Ikeda.
Ley Lines is a clear evolution for Miike as he produces a concise character study here, with inspired use of lighting, colour and settings and a mixture of slow tracking shots, hand-held frenetic action and stills of gorgeous scenery. The story is intriguing and there are a lot of characters and twists which are never quite allowed to spill out of control.
This is a well-rounded film, despite the inclusion of some trademark sexual degeneracy and extreme violence the overall mood is slow and considered and the characters have a very realistic feel to them. There is also a fair bit of genuine humour which lifts the mood and is very necessary, in my opinion, to stop things becoming too depressing.
Anyone who thinks Takashi Miike is a one-trick pony obsessed with shocking violence can think again as Ley Lines clearly shows the depth in his direction. This is an inventive, beautiful and haunting film and a fitting conclusion to this trilogy.