Based on a novel by Ikki Kajiwara and Hisao Maki, Takashi Miike's 2006 surreal arthouse thriller Big Bang Love, Juvenile A is set in an unspecified future time. Two young male prisoners - Ariyoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda) and Kizuki (Masanobu Ando) - wind up imprisoned in a strange jail where they develop a rather intense relationship. When one of the prisoners winds up dead, an investigation begins in an attempt to figure out who the murderer really was, but what takes place in the physical plain seems to have little effect on what happens to the two young men on the spiritual plain.
Describing Big Bang Love in any more detail than that would be a disservice to anyone interested in seeing the picture who hasn't already had a chance to do so. While it's not easy to agree with the quote from Miike on the cover of the release claiming that this film is his masterpiece, there's no denying that this is indeed a very, very well made picture that deals with some rather unorthodox and at times fairly impenetrable subject matter.
Like many of the director's films, Big Bang Love deals with the preconceived notions of masculinity, of what it means to 'be a man' and with the difficulties and nobility of loyalty. This time around, as he did with Gozu, he also delves into matters of the spiritual and, not for the first time, dabbles with homoerotic imagery and overtones. The narrative jumps around a lot, just like it did in Izo, and the movie definitely slaps us with some 'weird for the sake of weird' moments but underneath the philosophical musings and bizarre (and often phallic) imagery is a decent murder mystery with some clever black comedy and few interesting twists.
Taking place primarily on some fairly minimalist (though very well lit) sets, the movie often feels like it was adapted from a stage play. The prison is made up of some architecturally absurd designs and the colors, leaning more towards yellow than anything else, paint the whole production in a rather alien light. This gives the picture a very unorthodox but extremely theatrical look and tone that works very much in its favor to creating a seedy, hostile and completely bizarre environment for the events that make up the plot to take place.
Performances are strong across the board with Matsuda and Ando obviously stealing the show with their melancholy but somehow rather tender portrayals. Miike regular Ryo Ishibashi is fun as the warden, a small but important part, and Shunsuke Kobuzuka is quite good in his supporting role as fellow prisoner, Sumio.
At just over eighty minutes in length the film doesn't over stay it's welcome, rather it winds up on a fairly poignant note, reminding us that this is as much a love story (albeit a very unconventional one) as it is anything else. There's definitely heart to the picture, and thankfully there's some substance to go along with the style even if you have to look harder than usual to see it.
Big Bang Love, Juvenile A looks excellent in the 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD (the image is slightly windowboxed on the left and right). Color reproduction is great and the black levels are strong throughout. Fine detail looks nice in both the foreground and the background and even during the darker moments, you can see everything you're supposed to see. There's a bit of fine grain present but no major problems with print damage. Mpeg compression is non-existent and there are no problems with heavy aliasing or edge enhancement to complain about.
The Japanese language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Sound mix comes with excellent and very readable optional English subtitles in white or yellow with or without captioning for the text screens (a nice surprise!). A 5.1 track would have been ideal, particularly for the opening dance sequence, but the 2.0 mix sounds great regardless. Dialogue is sharp and clear and the music carries a nice punch it. Levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion.
The first disc contains the film, some classy animated menus and the subtitle setup menus but doesn't contain any actual supplements. Thankfully, the second disc in the set has a few choice extra features beginning with a lengthy Behind The Scenes documentary (41:11) that features a whole bunch of keen behind the scenes footage as well as some revealing interviews with one of the co-author's of the book that the film was based on, director Takashi Miike (his trademark sunglasses perpetually glued to his face), and most of the cast members. It's interesting to hear the actors talk about the script, most of whom openly acknowledge that, no, it's not at all a straight forward piece. It's also interesting to see the crew shooting on the sets that were used in the film and compare this to how they shot on location for a couple of brief scenes.
Miike sits down for an interview (19:54) which he begins by describing the film as a 'difficult birth.' He goes on to talk about how it was a difficult story to film and how it's only an assumption that movies have to have a theme. He describes making the film as a challenge and he talks about a few battles that he had to fight to complete the project before expressing his admiration for the people he worked with on the film and giving us his thoughts on the finished product, which he obviously holds quite dear.
Rounding out the supplements are three still galleries (Photo Gallery, Postcards and Mini Poster), a trailer and three teasers for Big Bang Love, Juvenille A, trailers for a few other Animegio DVDs (Takashi Miike's Graveyard Of Honor, A Hardest Night!!, The Wolves and Ashura), some Film Notes, essays on the cast and crew as well as on The Japanese Ghost and a behind the scenes essay, and last but not least, some DVD credits.
Both baffling and beautiful at the same time, Big Bang Love, Juvenile A is a high note in Miike's continuing evolution as a filmmaker who has proven time and again that he's not afraid to swim against the current. It's never a film that will appeal to a massive audience but those who appreciate moody surrealism and art for the sake of art's sake will no doubt find much to appreciate with this release. Highly recommended.
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.