Onibi: The Fire Within (1997) – By Duane L. Martin

often wonder how some films get made. I mean, with some films, there
are certain points where red flags should pop up and the people
involved should say to themselves, "Hey, this thing stinks like an old
shoe. What can we do to fix this and make it better?" Unfortunately, in
most instances, that never seems to happen.

Such is the case with Onibi: The Fire Within. At some point, whether it
be at the writing stage, the shooting stage, or even the editing stage,
someone should have had the guts to say, "Hey, this is boring. How can
we make this thing better?" Sadly, they didn’t.

To say this movie was boring would be an understatement. But, I don’t
want to get ahead of myself here. Let me tell you about the story, and
then I’ll tell you why it was so utterly boring.

Onibi: The Fire Wihin is yet another Japanese yakuza film about a
hitman who’s been in prison for the last ten years and has just been
released. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Anyway, the hitman’s
name is Noriyuki Kunihiro, but pretty much everyone calls him Kuni. He
gets out of jail and decides he wants to go straight. To that end, he
winds up making contact with a close friend from the old gang he was in
and the guy hooks him up with a chauffeur job, driving members of their
gang around on collection jobs. Now up to this point, the movie had
been really boring. They had been building him up as this kind of super
yakuza badass, but so far we had seen nothing from him. I figured "The
Fire Within" meant that maybe he was kinda like The Hulk in that he
only showed his badass side when provoked. Judging by the lack of
violence in this film though, it seems like it’s pretty damn hard to
provoke him.

The guys he drove to the collection job got beat up and held by the
people they went to collect from. The boss calls Kuni on his cell and
says he believes they’re holding the collectors in there and asks him
to go in and rescue them. He doesn’t want to, but he agrees to do it.
The scene where he does it is actually pretty cool…but only for about
fifteen seconds, if that. Basically, we get to see him being a genuine
badass for the first time in an otherwise boring movie, and found
myself thinking, "Hey, that was pretty sweet! Things are starting to
pick up here." Oh man, was I wrong.

As he struggles to stay relatively clean, he ends up hooking up with
this beautiful piano player at a restaraunt he and the gang were eating
at. Her name was Asako, and even though Kuni’s friend Tanigawa paid her
to go home with him that night, they ended up falling in love, which
eventually led to him helping her get revenge on a guy who had had an
affair with her sister and then forced her to have an abortion before
finally leaving her and having yet another baby with his wife. Her
sister ended up in a mental institution, so she wanted Kuni to get her
a gun so she could kill him. He does, and he teaches her how to use it,
but she can’t bring herself to do it. They did scare the crap out of
the guy though, which leads him to get revenge by killing Kuni’s gay
roommate, Sakata. He had gotten to be friends with in Sakata in prison,
and when Sakata got out, he went straight…so to speak. In the end,
Kuni can’t seem to deal with life on the outside, so he goes and kills
the guy and his brother and allows himself to get caught by the police.

There were very few scenes in this film that had any real entertainment
value, and the ones that did only served to make you wonder why they
didn’t do a better job with the rest of the film. The characters were
boring, the story was boring, the pacing was hit and a miss and there
was very little action or violence even though this guy was supposed to
be a total badass that had a rep and that everyone was supposedly
afraid of. Basically the whole thing just failed on every level I could
possibly mention.

Then there’s the ending. Kuni gets hauled off to jail, his super hot
girlfriend is now alone with a puppy that had belonged to Sakata before
he was killed, and Kuni’s yakuza friend Tanigawa walks into the big
boss’ office where he finds his own personal driver sitting there
waiting. He asks the guy for his sidearm, and like a moron, the guy
gives it to him. BANG! He’s dead. Then Tanigawa walks into the boss’
office, and the scene ends quickly with them pointing guns at each
other. They didn’t shoot the guns though. All they really did was stare
at each other. That lasted for about two seconds until the scene
changed to the same field of grass that we saw during the opening
credits, only now the end credits start rolling. It left me screaming
inside my head, "What the hell was that???"

At 104 minutes, this film is at least twenty or more minutes too long.
There was so much time wasted needlessly with scenes of absolutely no
importance whatsoever, that this film could have been easily cut down
and tightened up considerably. There’s a whole sequence near the end
where Kuni takes his girlfriend to a school gymnasium because they just
happen to have a grand piano in there that she can play for him. She
plays, and then there’s a long sequence of them swimming and her
playing and…god, it was just such a total waste of time and added
nothing at all to the film. That was definitely a fast forward moment.

I didn’t hate this movie, but I didn’t overly enjoy it either. There
should have been a lot more action and a lot more of him being the
badass that he was supposed to be. That would have made it exciting and
fun and interesting. Unfortunately, what we get is a boring guy in a
boring movie with an ending that makes no sense whatsoever. I feel bad
giving it such an awful review, but there was just so much wasted
potential here that I really couldn’t justify going easy on it. If
you’re into yakuza movies, there are a lot better ones out there.

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