Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blood (1998)

(This is the Japanese one with Riki Takeuchi, and not one of the bazillion other films with the same title.)

The professional killer Kizaki (Riki Takeuchi) tries to assassinate his former boss, the triad leader Ri (Sho Aikawa), which only seems fair to me, since we later learn that Ri first tried to have Kizaki killed for no reason we will ever be made privy of. Kizaki fails and is caught by Ri's men, tortured a little and then driven off into the woods to be disposed of.

Killing his two would-be executioners, the killer escapes nearly fatally wounded yet manages to get to a hospital. As luck will have it, his doctor there is Kamiyama (Noboru Takachi), a highschool friend of his from the time when was still called Takuya. Both men haven't seen each other in more than a decade. The last time they saw each other was in their late teens, when enemies of Kizaki were trying to rape his then girlfriend Yuki to get at him. The boys took to defending the girl but went a bit further than self defense by killing at least one of the attackers. Kizaki took the fall for both of them, and Kamiyama let him.

Now, Dr. Kamamiya is married to Yuki (now played by Mai Oikawa), who is pregnant. The doctor is still caught in feelings of guilt over what happened. Those feelings are strong enough for him to risk a lot to protect his old friend from the interest of the police and even help in Kazuki's escape when Ri's men attack the killer (through an old lady who is a professional killer like Kazuki, no less) in the hospital.

When Kizaki realizes that the physician is now married to Yuki, he urges Kamiyama to keep away from him in the future to protect the woman he obviously still loves.

Kamiyama, driven by a mixture of self-hatred and bitterness, agrees, but keeping out of Kizaki's trouble is more difficult for him than anyone could have imagined. Two mean jokes of destiny have provided further connections between the two men.

Firstly, the police officer investigating the case is the same one who was responsible for the rape revenge case years ago and is bound to realize what is going on betwenn Kizaki and Kamiyama sooner or later.

Secondly, Kamiyama is also treating Kizaki's enemy Ri for an inoperable and lethal cancer, and when the gangster boss learns of the men's connection, he does the obvious gangster boss thing and kidnaps Yuki to convince the physician to kill his old friend.

Of course, these problems can only be solved in a blood bath.

Before watching Blood, I only knew its director Kosuke Suzuki from his rather extreme sexploitation films in the Stop the Bitch Campaign series, so I didn't expect his earlier Yakuza film to be less interested in bodily fluids and much more in classical notions of tragedy.

Usually, I would complain about the heavy weight Blood's scripts lays on fateful coincidences, but if you read the film as a tragedy (like many yakuza films are between the shouting and the shooting), those really aren't coincidences but fate's way to fulfill a destiny a long time in the making for all of the characters, from Kizaki to the cop.

I think Suzuki manages to keep his film's tone earnest enough to make this reading as a tragedy instead of a melodrama tenable. There is something deliberate and consciously slow about many of the film's scenes. Blood is very - not as atypical for a film made for the V cinema market as one would think - focused on the feelings of its characters, or rather the part of their feelings that is readable in their eyes and in their posture. These aren't people really used to giving voice to their feelings, and when they do, their death can't be far away.

There is of course room for the genre-necessary violence, but much of the action is wilfully occluded through Suzuki's often elegant choice of camera set-ups.

When in doubt, Suzuki prefers Riki's angry "I EAT THE CAMERA!" face to spurting blood. In Blood's case, this technique doesn't have the unpleasant whiff of a film too cheap to have any action or a director too amateurish to show it, but works as a hint that the film's main action takes place not through gun play but in the lost places hidden in its characters' heads.

Instead of expositing the characters' inner lifes directly, Suzuki chooses to let the viewer fill in most of the blanks herself, a good method to infuriate everyone in dire need of having everything spelt out, and endear a film to people with an overactive imagination like me.

All this doesn't mean that Blood is a very subtle film. As you know, Jim, Riki Takeuchi is one of the great scenery-chewing, shouting and scowling actors that grace cinema and just doesn't do subtle like normal people understand it. Riki isn't so much acting as pushing a persona made of hair, rage and an underlying odour of being lost through the screen right into one's living room. Good thing that he's usually not playing the sensitive poet type but violent, angry and lost people like Kizaki. And he's as good at it as I can imagine. Noboru Takachi nicely manages to hold his own beside Riki without getting into a shouting competition, staying believable as someone driven by an unhealthy mixture of self-hatred, unspoken rage and the feeling to live someone else's life.


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