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Shinjuku Triad Society

Artsmagic DVD // Unrated // August 31, 2004
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 11, 2004 | E-mail the Author

Cult maestro Takashi Miike has succeeded in becoming one of fringe film makings biggest sensations over the past few years. Slowly but steadily, thanks to a highly prolific output and usually flashy and over the top style, he has managed to win over genre fans. In the mid 90's he began a series of films, a trio dubbed The Black Society Trilogy, that, while having no linear connection to one another, shared a common look at the cross culture/mixed breed underworld in Japan.

Initially making his mark in the Japanese "v-cinema" (direct-to-video) market, Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) was Miike's first film that was distributed in theaters before making the video rounds.

Tatsuhito is a Shinjuku cop whose bloodstream has the racial combination of the warring gangs, the Japanese yakuza and Chinese triad, that he pursues. Tatsuhito is a man whose heart has hardened, clearly demonstrated in an early scene when a pretty female suspect he is interrogating jokingly hops onto a table, spreads her legs, and makes a crude invitation. His answer? Well, he pummels her head with a chair. Dirty Harry Calahan on his most ornery day wouldn't come close to doing that.

Tatsuhito's brother, Yoshito, is supposed to be the families shining star but instead falls in league with a Taiwanese gang, lead by a ruthless figure named Wang, that Tatsuhito has been chasing. After he escorts a poisoner to Tapei, Tatsuhito sticks around and digs up some dirt on Wang who has been funding a hospital in the run down town. Wang is using the hospital as a front for in dealing black market organs. When Yoshito goes missing, Tatsuhito goes on a rampage to get his brother away from Wang's clutches. But, does his brother want to be saved?

This film is gay..... Gay in the most hardcore, punch you in the face, homemade whiskey guzzling, shave my back, manly man way possible. Wang is homosexual and keeps an effeminate boy toy in tow, only these guys aren't a couple of Liberace's. His deceptively delicate looking boy toy gleefully slits throats, and when a brothel owner won't agree to Wang's payoff fee, he plucks her eye out. I haven't seen such mean, testosterone laced action with homosexual overtones since the transvestite fight in Blazing Magnum.

Those familiar with Miike's gangster tales will find him in the same territory he later traveled in Dead or Alive, City of Lost Souls, and Agitator. The style is strictly exploitation, exploring some machismo- albeit sometimes gay machismo- with those beloved offbeat Miike touches. For instance, while interrogating one Taiwanese gangster that can lead him to Wang, Tatsuhito calls in another cop to help him. The small, bespeckled, unassuming cop grabs the big gangster, wrestles him, and proceeds to- dare I say?, lovingly- rape him into a confession. It is freakin' Lynch-worthy in its weirdness. While the film has some contrivances and uneven points as it juggles perspectives between the unsympathetic cop and Wang (a role unfortunately largely phoned in), it has enough of exploitation substance and bleak fury to entertain fans.

The DVD: Arts Magic is releasing all three films in the trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, and Ley Lines), available in individual releases or in the Black Society Trilogy boxset.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The definition is pretty lacking. Mainly, the image is dark, which leads of all sorts of problems with the sharpness and color quality. Grain is heavy too, but it is a gritty, low budget film, so I wont fault it for being a little rough in that area. Overall though, it is a very muddled affair.

Now, I'm a little more kind to the image quality here based on two things. In the interview section for one of the films in the trilogy, Miike talks of how he had the films processed in Taiwan rather than Japan because he wanted the cheaper, rougher look, rather than the more clean and professional job a Japanese processor would deliver. Second, there is just the general quality of so many low budget Japanese releases, making this kind of transfer, sadly, the norm.

Sound: Dolby 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Competent job. The dialogue is clear and the subtitles are well done. The fx and music tracks may have times when they lack punch, but that has more to due with being a low budget film and is in no way a product of being a bad audio transfer.

Extras: Bio/Filmographies— Original Trailer and Artwork— Interviews with Takashi Miike- Interview 1 (29:49), Interview 2 (4:58), and editor Yasushi Shimamura (6:29)--- Audio Commentary by "Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike" author Tom Mes. A typical third party track. Mes is informative, but he does have a preciousness towards the material and Miike that a biographer would be prone to having, which, considering the off the wall material, makes him sound a bit too reserved.

Conclusion: While it may not be the greatest gangster/cop film in the Miike cannon, it is still a good dose of gritty entertainment, worthy of a double bill with..., oh I don't know, Cruising. The middling quality of the image is an unfortunately genre crutch, but the interviews and lack of highly superior alternative make it worth a purchase for Miike fans.

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