Wild Life is a quirky Japanese film from experimental director Shinji Aoyama. An ex-boxer gets caught up with a Yakuza gang and dragged into a mystery involving the kidnapping of his boss, a mysterious videotape and police corruption. This is an interesting film with a fresh take on the gangster genre which is perhaps best described as an offbeat crime comedy.
Hiroki Sakai is an ex-boxer who now works in the gaming industry; his company provides Pachinko machines and the like for gaming parlours. He has a meticulously routine life, leaving for work, eating meals and even drinking beer according to a strict internal timetable. He seems somewhat indifferent towards his life, as though he had little hand in choosing the way it would turn out.
Things begin to change for Sakai when he is approached and threatened by a Yakuza boss called Ijima and his intellectually challenged sidekick Ken. They demand he turn over a package which they believe Mizuguchi (an associate of his boss) has given him. Sakai has no idea what they are talking about but this strange encounter kick starts a transformation which sees his carefully ordered life fall apart at the seams.
He fiercely respects his boss and so when he goes missing Sakai is extremely worried. He also harbours strong unspoken feelings for the boss´s daughter which are brought to the fore by the unusual situation. He begins to investigate and becomes increasingly unpredictable, turning at first to a dodgy cop called Higuchi for help. Higuchi is a comedy character, hard-drinking and corrupt but also harbouring an extreme liking for Sakai and he agrees to help him solve the mystery.
The plot is quite good although the large cast of characters and unexpected twists can make it hard to follow at times. The characterisations are terrific and the tone of violence is frequently relieved by off the wall comedy and innocent blossoming romance. Shinji Aoyama is a very interesting director, he employs more styles and techniques in this film than many directors manage in their entire career. There is plenty of imaginative camerawork as Aoyama favours a fluid style constantly moving the camera and setting up long complicated panning shots. He builds tension well, has perfect comic timing and conveys the emotions of the characters effectively.
The cast are great, each is suited to their diverse roles and this range of characters provide a rich backdrop for the action. Kosuke Toyohara plays the lead, Hiroki Sakai and he gives a great account of himself as Sakai´s distant, unassuming, carefully ordered personality mutates into something far more direct and dynamic. Jun Kunimura is perfectly slimy as Yakuza boss Ijima and the rest of the cast are equally convincing.
The film is chopped into parts, each with its own title and the various pieces are woven together skilfully for a satisfying and surprisingly upbeat climax. This blend of comedy and action works very well and Wild Life stands out in the Yakuza genre as something a bit different. The film was made in 1997, has good English subtitles, and lasts 103 minutes.
Wild Life is a very enjoyable film, an entertaining mixture of genres. This is a lot of fun and while the plot isn´t groundbreaking and things can become confusing at times you don´t need to understand every detail to appreciate the whole. Ultimately the talented director Aoyama makes it work and Wild Life is worth picking out of the overpopulated Yakuza genre.