Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tokyo Mafia 4: Yakuza Blood (1997)

(Don't even try to puzzle out the continuity between this and the other three films. It'll only give you a headache and distract you from the best film of the whole bunch).

Young, inexperienced and rather dumb street thug Ryo (Kazuhiro Mashiko) becomes a bit obsessed by the story of the Legendary Assassin supposed to first have killed 300 yakuza in a single night to take vengeance for his murdered girlfriend and then become the best professional killer in Japan, as told to him during a cameo of the inevitable Ren Osugi. That assassin is obviously none other than the hero of the other three Tokyo Mafia movies, Ginya Yabuki (Riki Takeuchi!).

As fate will have it, Ryo is at a bar where Yabuki is performing one of his jobs and kinda-sorta saves the older man's life. Yabuki doesn't seem very thankful, yet still Ryo decides there and then that he's going to become a hit man like Yabuki, too, and - if possible - something like his new idol's apprentice. The young idiot begins following Yabuki around, trying to insinuate himself as a junior assassin with Yabuki's controller (Hirotaro Honda), Oh and he begins to shoot the corpses of the victims of Yabuki's hits (incidentally, corpses are the only things Ryo's able to hit) in what I can only interpret a declaration of love.

Ryo also nearly guns down a witness, a Chinese girl named Yuan (Ryoko Imamura), but Yabuki, who until that point had merely pretended not to see Ryo creepily stalking his every move and mutilating corpses, painfully dissuades him from nonsense like this.

Yuan isn't easily pissed off by minor things like a guy trying to kill her, so soon enough, something as close to romance as you'll find in a yakuza movie starts between her and Ryo. It's enough for any sane guy to stop trying to imitate a man like Yabuki so obviously out for self-destruction, but fate (Ryo's dumbass-itude) has other plans.

This, the fourth, and, as it looks, last of the Tokyo Mafia films comes as something of a surprise to me. The film was again - like the third one - directed by Takeshi Miyasaki, but there's a huge difference between the highly entertaining, but generic competence of the director's last effort, and the free-form artiness of this one.

If you come looking for a bit of the old ultra-violence, Tokyo Mafia 4 will probably not make you happy, because there's not really that much action on screen, and the shoot-outs that do happen are over (I suspect realistically) fast. There's no impression of Miyasaki not being able to stage an entertaining gunfight here, though, it rather seems to me as if the director's just not interested in making a movie that is mainly about gunfights. Of course, there is a (comparatively) big, slow-mo gunfight with Riki snarling a lot at the end of the movie, but even that one will stay in my mind because a bunch of sword-fighting monks that up until that point looked to me like metaphors without any actual physical presence in the world of the film turn into Riki-gun-fodder.

What also will stay in my mind is the film's circling around the question about the difference between myth and reality, about what makes a man want to become just like another man, even when that man tries to dissuade him from this goal by any means necessary, because he knows he's just a drunk with a death-wish. This circling happens in the typical, sometimes semi-improvised style yakuza V-cinema often takes on when it's not about the shoot-outs or the honour or the boredom, in scenes that often border on the absurd, directed by Miyasaki with the light hand of a man willing to give his actors room. And - as is often the case with films like this - everyone plays his or her heart out. Not in a Hollywood "warning! star acts now!" fashion, but with a sense of spontaneity that produces authenticity even in a film whose budget doesn't provide the actors with any attractive settings to do their acting in (though the film has some - probably shot guerrilla style - outside locations).

It's all about creating a mood, looking at people, listening to people, and never quite outright saying what the point of the film is. So basically, it's the sort of film people produce who know that they don't have much money to work with, but can do what they want with the little they have as long as the end product contains three shoot-outs. As in pink cinema, so in the yakuza film.


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