leave a comment --Ken Fox
Far from the typical over-the-top explosion of pop detritus that's come to define the current wave of Japanese gangster films, this exceedingly stylish couple-on-the-run thriller is mellowed by quiet moments of Tarantino-esque dialogue and a streak of unsettling, David Lynchian strangeness. A near-fatal encounter on a remote mountain road proves the salvation of a desperately unhappy hotel worker and a young gangster on the lam. Toshiko (Sie Kohinata) has been living as a virtual prisoner under the watchful eye of her nasty guardian, Sonezaki (Yohachi Shimada), a perverted hotel clerk who helps himself to Toshiko's savings and used underwear. Today, however, is Toshiko's birthday, and she's about to make a run for it. Young yakuza Samehada (Tadanobu Asano, star of Takashi Miike's infamous ICHI THE KILLER), meanwhile, made off with 100 million yen of the syndicate's money, and is now hiding out in the surrounding hills. Samehada's luck has just ran out; he's been discovered in flagrante by the posse of colorful yakuza who've been pursuing him, a crew led by the bewigged Mr. Tanuki (Ittoku Kishibe), who wears a bandoleer of vicious throwing knives strapped across his chest. Tanuki's team includes his son, Mitsuru (Shingo Tsurumi), a bleach-blonde psycho with a superhuman sense of smell; and Mr. Tanuki's mysterious sister, a leggy beauty in a white fur and dark glasses on whom Mitsuru dotes. Bolting through the woods in his skivvies just as Toshiko is making her getaway, Samahada causes her car to swerve and crash into Mr. Tanuki's; she's unconscious but unhurt, and together they head for a cabin in the woods. Once Sonezaki realizes that his pretty young ward has escaped presumably with another man he contacts bizarre, giggling uni-browed hired gun Yamada (Tatsuya Gasyuin), who's already disposed of Sonezaki's ex-wife and is now charged with finding Toshiko and killing her companion if the yakuza don't get to him first. Yamada is easily one the strangest assassin since, well, ICHI THE KILLER, but he's just one of this film's quirky pleasures. First-time feature writer-director Katsuhito Ishii infuse the sadistic, high-energy antics of Miike's brand of yakuza thriller with the subtleties of American independent fare; the resulting hybrid is both exceptionally satisfying and enormously entertaining.