Young Thugs: Innocent Blood (1997) – By Duane L. Martin

You know, it’s funny. The first four Takashi Miike films I reviewed were mediocre at best and really depressing and slow paced at worst. Lately though, I’ve seen a couple of Miike’s films that weren’t like that at all. In fact, they were quite enjoyable and had good stories and characters that you can actually care about. One of those was Bird People in China, which I will be reviewing in the November issue. This film is the other. I’m assuming that the sequel to this film, Young Thugs: Nostalgia, will be equally as enjoyable as this one, if not more so.

Young Thugs: Innocent Blood is a genuinely entertaining coming of age story where we get to observe a snapshot view of the lives of a group of teenagers who are discovering that as they move into adulthood, things are no longer as simple as they were when they were growing up. It’s a story that’s been done before, but Miike took quality characters and added to that some almost cartoonish violence, a sprinkling of humor and a whole lot of emotional turmoil and blended them all together to make a film that’s as touching as it is entertaining.

The kids in this film, are all in their late teens or early twenties. Ryoko, played by the incredibly pretty Sarina Suzuki, has been dating Riichi since high school. Their two best friends are Kotetsu and Yuji, and together the four of them have been playing jokes, kicking ass, and taking names for years. Unfortunately, now that high school’s over, they’re finding that adjusting to life in the real world with jobs and all the other problems that go along with being a grown up is a lot harder than they had anticipated. Riichi sells sunglasses and works at a restaurant, Kotetsu is a cook at the same restaurant, Ryoko works at a hair salon with her friend Masae, and Yuji is never shown doing much of anything except hangin’ out.

Everything goes pretty well for the group until Riichi starts feeling like he’s getting bored with Ryoko because she never changes and she’s been pretty much the same since high school. This is about the time a girl named Nahomi who went to school with Richii years earlier shows up at the restaraunt as a waitress and they start seeing each other. This causes Ryoko to go off on her own and the rest of the movie is more or less about how miserable Riichi is without her, and how miserable each of them is in their own way. Despite that though, there’s always a sense of hope that eventually everything is going to work out ok.

Typical of Miike films, this one has a considerable amount of violence. Riichi and Komatsu (mostly Riichi) seem to fight mostly for the fun of it. The thing about the fighting in this film though is that much of it doesn’t really have a serious tone to it. Often it’s either comical in some fashion or just generally has a feeling like the beatings aren’t all that serious and the wounds will heal. Basically no one was out to kill or seriously injure anyone.

One thing I was very pleased to see was that Miike didn’t put anything in this film that was just inserted for the sake of pure shock value. Well actually there is one shock, but it kinda sucks and it’s kinda funny at the same time. I don’t want to spoil it here, but you’ll know it when you see it. I’m not a big fan of seeing something shocking in a film that has nothing to do with advancing the story, because often it just ends up leaving a bad taste in your mouth and you don’t really get anything out of it because it was pointless to start with. Everything Miike did in this movie moved the story along nicely, and even when one of the main characters is accidentally killed in a rather shocking way, it serves to pull the rest of them closer together, and leaves you with a sense of hope that one day Ryoko and Riichi will end up back together again. Miike’s not big on happy endings, but at least this one leaves you with a hopeful feeling rather than leaving you depressed and feeling like someone just ran over your grandmother.

I really don’t know what to think about Miike at this point. He’s made crap, and he’s also crafted brilliance. There doesn’t really seem to be much of an in between with him, but fortunately, in this case at least, he’s hit upon brilliance once more.

The DVD has several extras including bios and filmographies, an interview with Takashi Miike, original sleeve art, the original trailer and an informational video on Osaka’s history and culture.

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.