One of prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike's best known films in North America and the one that really got the buzz going for him at various film festivals during its initial theatrical run was Fudoh – The Next Generation (based on some Japanese manga). The movie was originally released a few years ago by Media Blaster/Tokyo Shock as a no frills non anamorphic disc with burned in subtitles (the disc didn't even have a menu!), and that's all North American fans really had to work with until now, as the film has (thankfully) been re-released as a much improved special edition.
The story beings when a young Riki Fudoh (Shosuke Tanihara of Godzilla Vs. Megaguirus) witnesses his brothers death at the hands of his own father, who kills his eldest son to settle a problem between roving Yakuza factions. A few years later, and Riki is a smart young man working his way through high school who also happens to be building up a gang of his own with the intention of avenging his brothers death and looking down some turf of his own.
Riki pretty much does what he wants in school. He sells dope to his teachers and as the anniversary of his brother's death approaches, he and his team of school girl strippers (one of whom does a neat trick with her crotch and a blow gun), a couple of assassins that come in the form of some young boys, and a gigantic behemoth of a man named Akira (professional wrestler Kenji Takano) set out to eliminate all of those responsible for killing his brother all those years ago.
Shosuke Tanihara does a fantastic job in the lead playing his part with just the right amount of sheer, unadulterated coolness so as to be perfectly cast in the role of young Riki Fudoh – ace Yakuza boss in the making. He's calm, collected and quiet enough on the outside but when he's crossed he shows that he's just as merciless as his old man was in his prime and he takes care of business no matter what the cost. This makes for an interesting paradox when you figure he's just a high school kid trying to graduate – but then again with some of the horrible current events to take place in the school system as of late, maybe it's not such a paradox after all.
The supporting cast is a lot of fun too. In addition to the aforementioned Kenji Takano, an absolutely massive hulk of a man, watch out for Riki Takeuchi (of Miike's Dead Or Alive trilogy) and his perfectly coifed mullet in a supporting role as an opposing gangster with ties to Riki's past. He doesn't get a ton of screen time but when he's on camera, you know it and you won't soon forget it.
In addition to some fine performances and plenty of slick, manic camera work the film also benefits from outrageous amounts of gratuitous sex and violence. While on the surface it may seem like nothing more than shock value when Yakuza bosses are carved up in a car and cover the windows in their arterial spray but in the context of the film and the context of the world in which Riki Fudoh lives and operates, it makes a twisted sort of sense for the action set pieces to play out the way that they do. Everything else is so over the top in the movie that to underplay the violence and the gore and sex would seem to be putting the film off balance. In short, it wouldn't match up right. They also serve to throw the audience a few curveballs as the movie plays out. You don't expect what happens in the film to really happen, it all seems so implausible but yet it does and the actors play it completely straight while it all goes down.
While Miike has made better films (Audition is a minor masterpiece), Fudoh remains one of his most enjoyable works. IT plays out with a sick sense of black humor and a maniacal perversity that few films can match and it does it with style.
The previous DVD from Media Blasters was non-anamorphic and slightly dingy looking. While not unwatchable, it certainly was unremarkable. Thankfully, they've taken some steps to correct that with this release, which is presented in a new anamorphic transfer that is noticeably improved over the previous release. The colors look better, the black levels are stronger, and there's a bit more detail present in the picture. It's still not a reference quality image we're looking at here (some of the action appears slightly fuzzy and it tends to blur at times) and likely never will be (Miike shot this one fast and cheap) but it's a pretty decent effort even if it could have been better.
There are Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound options available in Japanese and in English, and there are Dolby Digital 2.0 options available in both Japanese and English. Optional English subtitles are included that are clean, clear and easy to read and if you've got no aversion to subs, you'd do well to watch the film utilizing the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix as it's quite good and the English dubbing doesn't really do the film any favors.
Overall, all four of the tracks sound quite good with the Surround Sound mixes getting the edge for the added atmosphere and action that they lend to the film by making nice use of the rear channels when appropriate throughout the film.
The biggest of the extra features on this release is a commentary track with director Takashi Miike and actor Shosuke Tanihara. This isn't a bad commentary at all. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles the two men discuss working together and do a good job of sharing their experiences on the set of the film as it was being put together. Tanihara discusses a lot of his characters motivations and Miike adds to this as well. All in all, it's a pretty interesting track that does a nice job of filling in the behind the scenes information pertaining to Fudoh.
Takashi Miike and Shosuke Tanihara are also each on hand for a video interview. Combined these interviews run about fifty-five minutes in length with Miike's portion of the footage making up forty-one minutes of that time. He discussed budgeting, some of the more extreme content in the film and where some of the ideas came from while Tanihara gives his take on the character he played as well as some of the things that inspired him in the role and how it was to work with Miike.
Rounding out the extra features are four trailers for other Tokyo Shock DVDs, but there's no trailer for the feature itself.
Fudoh finally gets the treatment that it deserved in the first place. It's an absolutely fantastic film with a great cast of Japanese cult actors and some truly insane plot twists that really holds up well to repeat viewings. The new Special Edition DVD has got improved audio and video (though the video could have been better) and some interesting extras, making this one easy to slap with the 'Recommended' stamp despite the steep MSRP.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.