Shinjuku Triad Society is the first film in the Black Society trilogy by director Takashi Miike. Recently repackaged by Artsmagic this is a violent and uncompromising film which focuses on the dark underworld of the Yakuza and their running battle with the law. We follow Kiriya, a tough cop, as struggles to save his brother from becoming too deeply involved with the Taiwanese Dragon´s Claw gang.
The Dragon´s Claw gang are battling for control of the Shinjuku district´s drugs, extortion and gay prostitution rackets with the local Yakuza. Kiriya is driven by a love of his family and his complex past has clearly had a profound effect on his personality. The son of a Japanese soldier in China he moved to Japan at the age of sixteen and joined the police force. His brother studied law but to Kiriya´s surprise and horror fell in with the very gang he is hunting.
Kiriya´s brother Yoshihito becomes the lover of one of the Dragon´s Claw bosses, a long-haired and completely insane character called Wang. Kiriya will stop at nothing to save his brother from this situation and he approaches the task with complete disregard for the both the law and his own safety. We are introduced to a wealth of peripheral characters along the way as the film builds towards an explosive climax.
Takashi Miike is supremely talented as a director and story teller. There are a number of themes running throughout this film and a multitude of characters and yet I found it captivating and never lost the thread. The direction is beautiful, even cliched scenes are made fascinating by Miike´s choice of shot. The entire film has a very dark and brooding mood to it.
The ideas at play here are very complex as the isolated Kiriya goes about his work, disconnected from those around him and yet ultimately completely unselfish in his motivations. Each of the characters is portrayed sympathetically, there are no cartoon baddies here, and despite their sometimes intense unpleasantness they all have their own background and desires which goes some way towards explaining their behaviour.
The reality of the movie is also partly down to the fantastic cast who do a tremendous job of bringing the characters to life. Kippei Shiina is brilliant as Kiriya, a really deep and believable performance. Shinsuke Izutsu does a good job as his ineffectual younger brother Yoshihito and Tomorowo Taguchi is simply terrifying as warlord Wang. The two "skanks" Ritsuko a brutalised female prostitute and the young male lover of Wang are both superbly well portrayed and fascinating characters.
The pace of the film is perfect and the extreme violence never feels out of place given the subject matter. There are murders and rapes aplenty, both male and female, but none of this is done for shock value and consequently I didn´t find it uncomfortable to watch as some of Miike´s other films have been.
The quality of the picture is not great at times and there are virtually no special effects yet this film achieves a very realistic feel. To make a film of this quality on a tight budget is testament to Miike´s abilities as a director and proof that you can make a sprawling and ambitious piece without the mega-bucks available to most western directors. Lighting is used to great effect here and as always the settings chosen are excellent, adding a great deal to the dark and gritty feel of the piece.
In addition to the deeper explorations and themes at play here the film also works very well as a piece of out and out action. It is thrilling and commands your undivided attention throughout. The complexity justifies several viewings and I found myself keen to watch it again almost immediately as the film ended.
The film has a serious mood and is certainly not played for laughs but the familiar brand of Takashi black humour is evident in places here. The violent action is superbly realised and inventive and although the editing feels raw in places this works to the advantage of the overall plot which is littered with sub plots and side avenues.
This is a brilliant piece of film making from a very talented director who is certainly now getting the recognition he deserves. I wouldn´t hesitate in recommending this film to fans of either the gangster genre or Takashi Miike. Refreshingly dysfunctional and unashamedly brutal this is one of the best films I have ever seen as it achieves a level of emotional depth which is rarely found in the gangster genre. Don´t be afraid to open your mind and let Takashi Miike in.