Blu-ray Review: Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy

Takashi Miike is a cinematic force on several levels. In a career spanning 25 years, the Japanese director has helmed over 75 films. For several years, most of his output went straight to video as part of Japan’s V-Cinema. This distribution gave him exposure in Japan, but anyone who calls, “action” wants their work to be seen around the globe in 35mm. In 1995, Miike launched himself into cinemas with Shinjuku Triad Society. This film set the tone for his outrageous cinema offerings that include Visitor Q, Audition and Ichi the Killer. Shinjuku Triad Society along with Rainy Dog and Ley Lines make up Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy boxset. While they all deal with the Japanese underworld, they are not sequels.

Shinjuku Triad Society (1995 – 100 minutes) could have easily been another tale of a shady cop tracking down a mobster that had become popular in Asian cinema after the masterpieces of Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo. Miike twists around the formula. His cop is a shady character who has a lot of issues. But he’s looking for a little redemption on the trail of a mobster working out of Shinjuku. The bad guy is as creepy you can get including his use and abuse young boys. The cop doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty by committing numerous felonies. Things get nastier as the cop uncovers what’s a prime source of income for the underworld. Rainy Dog (1997 -95 minutes) reminds us that even mobsters can be the victim of downsizing. Yuuji (Show Aikawa) gets shown the door by his mob boss. This forces him to hook up with a lesser Yakuza organization. He’s no longer full time and gets stuck acting as an independent contractor. He gets paid by the killing. Things get more complicate when a woman arrives with the son he never knew existed. He’s not even sure who the woman is. What does he do with the kid? He ends up taking the kid to work. The kid doesn’t talk so there’s no sense of blabbing. But slowly Yuuji gets a paternal feeling with the kid. He gets a bit of a bond with his baby mama. Although he’s still a bad ass gangster. He still lives in a world of treachery and discovers his new boss is willing to sell him out for a price. Ley Lines (1999 – 104 minutes) brings a trio of boys from rural Japan into Tokyo’s Shinjuku. They are a bit of outsiders since their ancestors are Chinese. Their dreams in the big city get derailed fast when they allow themselves to be scammed by a hooker. This leads them into a career of selling drugs for the local mobsters. The trio want a better life so they decide to put their criminal experiences to use to raise enough cash to split for ports unknown. This is a rather gritty film that wraps up the trilogy in the same textures as the first entry.

Miike could have easily made paint by numbers crime films with good cops and shady criminals. He could have just been another pretender to John Woo just looking to make bullet ballets. Black Society Trilogy aren’t about looking cool and sleek in the crime world. There’s a raw and uncomfortable element to the image and the action. Shocking moments can happen to and from characters without much set up or warning. You can’t quite root for the characters since you’re never sure that you can trust them to do the right thing. Instead you watch in amazement as you ponder if they can really succeed, get sucked back under or snuffed out. Miike wants you to know that you’ve seen his movie and didn’t merely settle for another formula clone. His are the ones you tell your pals to hunt down because you’re not going to believe what happens next. Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy is a boxset that establishes him as a director who was ready to rise beyond the straight to video market.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for all three films. The transfers bring out the details of life in these parts of Tokyo that you won’t want to visit. The audio is the original uncompressed stereo. The levels are fine for low budget productions. The movies are subtitled in English.

Takashi Miike: Into the Black (45:07) sits down with the director to talk about his early years. The movies of Bruce Lee got him addicted to cinema. He never thought he’d be able to become a director as he was doing fine as an assistant director. He got his shot when a director had to bail on a project. The interview is illustrated with photos of Miike through out his career. He talks of the fun of crashing cars in Japan without necessary permits.

Interview with actor Show Aikawa (21:42) gets production stories from the star of both Rainy Dog and Ley Lines. He was a musician who got into acting when asked to be on a TV series. He did a lot of work with Miike over the years. he gets into how he works with his longtime director. He talks about how they move rather fast on the set. Show speaks in Japanese with English subtitles.

Audio commentaries on all three films feature Miike biographer Tom Mes. He gives a fine context for the production of the movies along with how they relate to Miike’s career.

Original theatrical trailers for all three films.

Arrow Video presents Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy. Directed by: Paul Kyriazi. Starring: Show Aikawa, Tomorowo Taguchi, Takeshi Caesar, Yukie Itou, Michisuke Kashiwaya. Boxset Contents: 3 movies on 2 Blu-rays. Rated: R. Released: January 27, 2017.

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