Takashi Miike's second collaboration with manga artist Hisao Maki (the first being Bodyguard Kiba is far from his best work, but it shows promise of what would come from one of the busiest directors currently working in Japan.
A hitman named 'Lightning' Takeshi (Taishu Kase) finds out that his latest job is to assassinate the leader of the Matsumas, a very powerful and very prominent Yakuza gang operating out of Tokyo. He takes the job and sets out to make his plan happen but somehow, along the way, he's found out by the Matsumas and soon enough a group of Yakuza soldiers are after him all calling for his head – but not before he pulls the trigger and completes his job. Once the Matsumas figure out who he is, not only is he in danger but so too are his two brothers, Takashi (Kazuya Kimura of Kinji Fukasaku's Triple Cross) and Hideshi (Kouichi Iwaki of Miike's Yakuza Demon), both of whom are higher ups in the gang that poses the biggest threat to the Matsumas (therefore making them prime candidates for a hit!).
One woman, clad in a nurses uniform, say Takeshi kill the Matsuma leader and normally Takeshi would have killed her too, in order to make sure that there weren't any witnesses but for some reason, this time he let her go. As the Matsuma clan close in on him he starts to think about her more and more until it becomes obvious that he's fallen for her. Meanwhile, things look like they're really going to hit the fan and the city sits on the brink of a mafia war.
While it's tough to give a proper evaluation of the story when the second part hasn't been told yet, one can say that there are glimpses of some of Miike's finest moments and the themes that are now so easily associated with him throughout the first part of Family. Honor among the criminal underworld, something that pops up in almost all of his Yakuza/gangster stories from the manic Dead Or Alive trilogy to the more pensive Bird People Of China is obviously a very important part of what ties Family together. Also present here is the misogyny that he is often criticized for, including a particularly ugly rape scene that is filmed by one of the perpetrator's friends to be screened later. While material like this obviously doesn't reflect the director's world view or his view of womankind and is instead a depiction if not a condemnation of the criminals who populate his cinematic output, it's still difficult not to think of some of the rather grisly fates that many of the female characters in his movies meet. On the opposite side of that spectrum there's also a fairly romantic love scene later on in the film, showing that the director is capable of handling softer scenes as well as harder ones equally well.
There's a lot going on in the first part of Family, almost too much at times. Without knowing how it all wraps up it's easy to be frustrated by the finale of part one and while the characters are setup and developed fairly well here, there's no pay off – its' a shame that this wasn't released in conjunction with the second part as it was in the UK.
Family is presented in a 1.85.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer which appears to preserve the original aspect ratio of the film as there isn't any obvious cropping or matting issues to note. Quality on this transfer isn't bad. The image is pretty stable and while there is some moderate aliasing present and some mild debris noticeable in spots, color reproduction is decent and for the most part the picture is pretty clean. Black levels stay fairly strong and detail levels are average or slightly above average. Not a reference quality release, but good quality over all even if it would have been nice to see this presented as an anamorphic transfer.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is of reasonably decent quality and it does come complete with optional English language subtitles that are clean, clear, easy to read and free of any typographical errors. In terms of quality, this is about on par with the video transfer in that it's fine even if it isn't exceptional. Dialogue is clean, and there isn't any background hiss to note. Range is obviously limited by this gets the job done without any glaring problems.
Aside from menus and chapter stops, Media Blasters has included trailers for Fudoh, Visitor Q, Ichi The Killer, Deadly Outlaw Rekka, One Missed Call, Negotiator, Izo, The Way To Fight and The Great Yokai War - all fine Miike films themselves.
While this is hardly a special edition release and the transfer really should have been anamorphic, this first part of Takashi Miike's Family isn't bad – but neither is it great. There are moments in here that make it worth a look but it's not on par with his best work; not even close. That being said, it's worth a rental and there are certainly worse things you could kill your time with than this disc.
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.