Wild Life (1997) – By Duane L. Martin

Have you ever seen a film that was confusing as hell throughout most of it, and yet for some reason you found it enjoyable anyway? Well for me, Wild Life is one of the few films I’ve ever seen that was confusing and yet enjoyable at the same time. I think it’s also a film that you need to see more than once, and I’ll get to why in a minute.

The story revolves around a young ex-boxer named Hiroki Sakai (Kosuke Toyohara) and his boss who owns a big pachinko parlor. Strange events lead to the boss getting kidnapped by the yakuza, and Hiroki gets dragged into the middle of a blackmail situation that he has no clue about. Hiroki enlists the aid of a friend on the police force to gather information so he can figure out what’s going on and how best to deal with it. The yakuza want a tape that was stolen from his boss’ home, and yet Hiroki doesn’t know anything about it until after talking to various people, the facts start coming to light. It’s only after he finds the tape that he gains the upper hand on the yakuza and puts an end to the blackmail scheme once and for all.

Kosuke Toyohara played his character Hiroki in a very strange manner. At times he almost seemed autistic, and yet at other times when action was needed or the situation called for it, he would become more animated. The character he played was basically a guy who had been locked into the same rigid routine for over five years. Every day he would have breakfast at a certain time, go for a long run, skip lunch, have dinner at five, and then two beers at seven. In between all of this routine, he worked as a nail master at the pachinko parlor and as a general assistant to his boss whom he seemed to care for a great deal.

Many of the other characters in the movie with the exception of the yakuza boss were really only side characters and didn’t amount to much more than that. The yakuza boss was basically doing his job as a boss in trying to get the tape back, kidnapping Hiroki’s boss, etc… He took pride in his work as a yakuza just as though he were doing any other job. He had no personal grudge against Hiroki or his boss, and in fact, he respected Hiroki a great deal and was a fan of his back when he was a boxer. In the end they actually finished on good terms with each other, and generally the movie had a happy ending, which shocked me considering how many Japanese films tend to have an unhappy ending just for the sake of ending on a bad note.

The timeline in this movie is a bit messed up. If you’ve ever seen Pulp Fiction, you know how a movie can be shot out of sequence and still make sense at the end. Well certain parts of this film were out of sequence as well, though not to the extent Pulp Fiction was, and yet it all came together at the end. That’s the thing about this movie. You’re going to sit there confused about what’s going on through the first half of the movie, then the next quarter of it will start to explain things a bit, and then the last quarter of it will bring everything to a conclusion and make it all clear. It takes patience to make the whole trip the first time you watch it, and you should watch it a second time simply because you can watch it with knowing eyes and the whole thing will be easier to follow.

Wild Life is a strange ride to say the least, but it’s fun and it has some moments of humor that really break up the seriousness of everything else that’s going on. That’s one nice thing about this movie is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Once things start to clear up after the first half of the film, you’ll realize how complex and engaging the story really is. Here’s a guy trying to deal with a situation he has no desire to deal with, but one that nonetheless has been thrust upon him by outside circumstances. It’s a story that’s been told more times than you can imagine, but at least this film does a nice job of making it seem fresh. With all the cookie cutter movies out there nowadays, Wild Life is a refreshing find that breaks out of the the mold of your typical Japanese yakuza films.

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