In 1995 Takashi Miike made the first of three films known as The Black Society Trilogy. Shinjuku Triad Society is the story of a cop on the take going up against a gang of insane and perverse mobsters known as The Dragon’s Claw Society.
Miike has long been known for using rape, ultra violence and shocking situations in his storytelling. This film brings the viewer more of the same, but in ways that may not be so expected. For example, the leader of the Dragon’s Claw Society is an insane homosexual flasher named Wang Zhi-Ming. He has a young boy, probably in his mid-teens as a lover, and the scenes of the boy and various others performing homosexual acts this film seemingly come close to outnumbering the numerous acts of violence.
The main storyline of the film centers around a cop named Ryuji Kiriya who’s not above getting dirty with criminals in order to get justice. He’s taking protection money to support his elderly parents, and his whole life throughout the course of the film revolves around his obsession over taking down Wang and getting his brother, who works for Wang, to give up the gangster life and go home to live with their parents. There’s a lot of jumping around in this film. Between the various gang meetings and encounters, the numerous scenes of brutality and homosexual acts and Ryuji’s little side trip to Taiwan where he investigates a private hospital owned by Wang where the organs of children are sold by their families for quick cash, it created a lack of cohesion on a specific plot line that detracted from the overall coherence of the story. Fortunately, it wasn’t so bad that it ruined the film, but more focus would have been nice.
The large number of homosexual acts in this film would lead you to believe that half the gangsters in Japan are gay, and although I don’t have a problem with showing homosexual acts in a film, what I do have a problem with is how overused it was in this particular film. Many of the scenes were pointless and did little to nothing to advance the story. It’s like they were thrown in there just to be shocking and that’s it. I personally find pointless, shocking gore far more entertaining than boring sex scenes, but hey, that’s just me.
The problem with reviewing films like this is that they aren’t made to appeal to everyone. You have to appreciate the filmmaker’s vision to really understand what they’re trying to achieve, and if you don’t like what the filmmaker is showing you or you just don’t understand it, then it’s going to sway your review one way or another. There are reviewers out there who would tell you that this movie is just awesome from start to finish and that it’s a brilliant piece of art. I know this because I’ve seen some of those reviews. These reviews were done by people who seem to think that Miike can do no wrong. Well, I’m not one of those people. I’m also not one of those people who hates everything Miike does and will pick apart every little thing. This movie has its good points and its bad points, and it’s my job to report those as I see them. I’ve covered a lot of the bad points already, and it may sound like I’m really down on the film because of that. That’s not entirely true, and I’m going to move on to what I liked about the film now so you can see that I’ve watched it with an objective eye.
One of the things I liked about this film is that various characters had personality quirks that made them interesting. The most notable of these was Wang’s little penchant for flashing people. There’s even a scene where he flashes the boss of a rival gang right before he walks out on his meeting with him. The young boy lover of Wang’s was ruthless and in one scene, killed a cop by slashing his wrist and his throat, all the while with a smile on his face. The boy had an obsession with penises as well and in one scene was even carving out a picture of one on a wooden table. The cop, Ryuji Kiriya, basically enjoyed using extreme methods to get the information he wanted out of people, and had little regard for proper police procedures when it came to bringing justice. And yet, despite his hard attitude towards dealing with criminals, there was a side to him that was gentle and kind as well. A side that took payoff money from gangsters to help give his elderly parents a better life. A side that wanted his brother to get away from the criminals so he could become an honest lawyer and live his life honorably rather than as a gangster. When you make a film that has a lot of characters, at least some of them have to stand out and be interesting. Miike gave the characters interesting and sometimes, as in the case of the flashing Wang, amusing little personality bits that made them more interesting and gave them some depth. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t do it for more of them, because it would have more effectively drawn you into the film if more of the characters had these types of interesting aspects to them. As it was, many of them just seemed flat and two dimensional.
Another great thing about this film was the violence. There were a few scenes that really stood out in this area, one of which was the fight scene in the gym where Ryuji single handedly beat the snot out of a whole bunch of gangsters before finally being taken down by them and beaten to a bloody pulp. The intensity of the fighting in that scene was just incredible and the whole thing was really well done. Another fight scene that really stands out for me is the one where he confronts his brother in a hotel room and tries to get him to leave the gang and to go home to live with their parents. The brother refuses and they start fighting and literally beat the ever living hell out of each other. Eventually Ryuji knocks his brother senseless, carries him from the room and takes him to a train station where he puts him on a train and sends him home.
The final fight scene between Wang and Ryuji was pretty sweet as well, although not as action packed as you would expect. It’s bloody and brutal, and as such will be enjoyed by fans of loud gunshots, broken glass and gushing neck wounds. Unfortunately, after all is said and done, the film comes to a depressing close, which I must admit, I was somewhat expecting because of the way they did the closing scene.
There was something else that depressed me in this film, and that was the whole organ selling thing with the kids. They even showed one of the kids with a big, gnarly scar going about three-quarters of the way up his side where they removed one of his kidneys. Although it was depressing, I’m sure this sort of thing is actually going on in the world, and it takes a lot of inner strength to face up to something so horrible. Especially when it’s portrayed in such a realistic way.
This type of film, as I stated earlier, is not for everyone. You have to be able to appreciate violence and gore, quirky characters and shocking situations to enjoy a film like this. The homosexual scenes may put some people off who would ordinarily enjoy a movie like this simply because there’s so much of it spread around needlessly throughout the film. I’m sure there’s a lot of guys out there who aren’t going to be overly impressed with Miike’s vision of homosexual gangsters, but it’s all a matter of what the viewer can handle, and I don’t think most people will have a problem with it. In any case, Shinjuku Triad Society is definitely a film worth seeing if you’re into gangster style Japanese films. If these kinds of films aren’t really your bag though, then you won’t really be missing much if you skip it. Then again, that can be said about pretty much any movie.
The DVD has some really nice extras including a full length commentary with Tom Mes, biographies, filmographies, two interviews with director Takashi Miike, an interview with the editor, Yasushi Shimamura, and a trailer for the film.
The Black Society Trilogy is available as individual discs or can be purchased as a complete trilogy in ArtsmagicDVD’s first digi-pack box set release. If you’d like to pick up this disc, the box set, or check out some of ArtsmagicDVD’s other releases you can check out their website at http://www.artsmagicdvd.com.