Ley Lines (1999) – By Duane L. Martin

Looking back on Tahashi Miike’s Black Society troligy as a whole, I think I liked the whole better than the individual parts. The first film, Shinjuku Triad Society, had quirky characters with some some good violence and a bit of humor here and there, while the second film, Rainy Dog, was just flat out depressing and had only two characters you could care about at all. Ley Lines, in my opinion, is the best of the three as it has characters you
actually care about and a mix of humor and violence that made it the stand out film of the trilogy.

Ley Lines is the story of two mixed race (Chinese / Japanese) brothers named Riyuchi and Shunrei, their mixed race friend named Chang, and a Chinese prostitute named Anita. Tired of being persecuted because of their Chinese heritage, the two brothers and their friend Chang decide to leave their home to try to find a way out of the country. Along the way, they have their pockets picked by the prostitute, who later pays for it when she’s abused badly by a “respectable” man in a suit who’s into sadism, her pimp, and just about everyone else she comes into contact with. Eventually Shunrei finds her staggering down the street, beaten and miserable, and goes back to her apartment with her. They make love, and that was the turning point where she joined up with the group. Actually she ended up making love to all of them at different times, but that’s another story. Basically, the whole film is about their quest to get away from their miserable lives and to start over somewhere else where they would be accepted for who they are. A lot happens to them along the way. A lot of quirky characters are encountered and a lot of people are hurt and killed, but I don’t want to give away the story here, so let’s move on…

Like the other films in the troligy, this film wasn’t overly full of dialogue, and you don’t even learn the character’s names until about the last quarter of the movie. Still, the names aren’t as important as the actual character development that takes place. The big brother Riyuchi is like the bad boy with a heart. He acts all tough, but down deep you know he really cares about his friends and the people he loves. His brother Shunrei is the one I think of as “the good brother” because he’s the one that’s openly caring and tries to always do the right thing given the opportunity. Chang is the goofy friend who’s right there with them every step of the way and you can always depend on him to do his best. Anita is the prostitute who was a kindergarten teacher back in Shanghai and now has had to resort to selling her body on the street to make a living. She’s absolutely miserable in this life, and after her encounter with the sadist and then being beaten by her pimp afterwards, she decides that she’s no longer going to sell her body for money. These are four characters you actually feel something for because all they really want to do is make their lives better. This is something that was conspicuously absent in the previous two movies, and the one thing that makes this movie special.

The cinematography in this film was different as well. There were many scenes that were color filtered to give them dark red, green and yellow tints. The look of these scenes really added to the depth of the emotion Miike was trying to bring at those particular moments. There was also a really cool inside out shot of the sadist looking into an inserted speculum. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it. I don’t want to get into too much detail on that one, but it was a really cool shot. Like the previous films though, there were still some overly long shots of people just walking that could have been cut down considerably without affecting the feel of those particular moments at all. A little creative editing could have made those segments more interesting while still maintaining the feel of the scene. See, it’s an unfortunate curse that I have to live with, but I tend to get bored very quickly. So when a long walking scene or just a needlessly long scene in general comes on the screen, the first thing I do is reach for the remote and hit the fast forward button so I can get past the boring part as quickly as possible and get to the next real part of the movie. It’s all about pacing, and if you have a two minute shot of someone walking down the street and it’s either just a solid shot or it’s a shot that only has one or two angle changes, it’s pretty much equivalent to riding your bike along the beach and then suddenly making a hard left out onto the beach, peddling through the sand for two or so minutes, and then hopping back up on to the paved road where you can speed up to a normal pace again. In the end, you still got from one place to the other, but you took a detour that was more of a needless pain than anything else. Miike is really bad about using these needlessly long scenes, but fortunately, for someone like me who’s easily bored, there weren’t as many of those scenes in this film as there were in Rainy Dog. That fact alone scored Ley Lines a few extra points in my book.

For me, Miike films are kind of a hit and a miss. Some are quite good while others just don’t do anything for me. Miike scored with Ley Lines, and if you even only watch one of the three films in the trilogy, you should make it this one, as this one was far and away the best of the three.

ArtsmagicDVD loaded the disc with extras, as they do with all their discs. There’s another full length feature commentary with Tom Mes, two interviews with Takashi Miike, an interview with the editor Yashushi Shimamura,
biographies and filmographies, and a trailer for the film. As with all of their releases, the translations and subtitles are excellent, and the overall quality of the disc is really nice. If you’d like to pick up this disc, or check out some of ArtsmagicDVD’s other releases you can check out their website at http://www.artsmagicdvd.com.