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Heat After Dark (Kitamura Ryuhei 1996)


Heat After Dark

Genre: Yakuza Action par Excellence

review in one breath

Heat After Dark is director Ryuhei Kitamura's first theatrical release. This 50 minute film is predominantly a character study within an intense action drama. Those familiar with Kitamura's later works, perhaps especially Versus will realize this is the beginning of his characetristic modus operandi. Here, the well defined characters consist of the innocent (the cop), the relatively good (Atsuro Watabe), the relatively bad (Shinichi Suzuki), and the absolutely bad (Shigeru Izumiya ), and a few other Yakuza hoodlums thrown in for entertainment.

Heat After Dark and Down to Hell (the so-called prequel to Versus) were "officially" released the same year, but they exhibit radically different styles. Both film styles eventually were combined in Kitamura's wildly popular (and rightly so) Versus.

Heat After Dark is clearly a skilled exercise in prolonged (ie, full length) action sequences populated by intentionally *interesting* characters. Viewers are forced to empathize with the film's central victim/character (Atsuro Watabe) as he navigates the moral maze of obligation toward a less-than-moral friend in light of commitments to his young daughter. This tension, of course, takes places within a ruthless conflict involving the worst of Japanese Yakuza.

Those who are familiar with Kitamura's work will undoubtedly appreciate Heat After Dark for its style. The degree of contrast in style between this film and Down to Hell is no less than extraordinary. Here, Kitamura has chosen a very clean and focused interface between you and the action. This is significantly different from the experimental visual filters and film techniques permeating Down to Hell.

Regarding the storyline, Kitamura here creates audience sympathy with a well-meaning "bad guy" (who repeatedly expresses the value of his relation and obligation toward his young daughter). The main character (Atsuro Watabe) who is in effect a yakuza killer himself, is viewed as the protagonist. Due to well-meaning allegiances toward his unfortunate friend, the main character is drawn into perilous scenarios involving the dregs of Yakuza hitmen. (Those familiar with Versus will recall that the protagonist is himself a rather dubious character.) The principal hitman (Shigeru Izumiya) is a true professional. (For example, he chit-chats on the phone with his daughter while he fires at his targets.)

This relatively brief film (50 minutes) provides an unparalleled window into the development of Kitamura's experimental style. The film itself is completely fulfilling as a non-stop action narrative, which he thoroughly carries over into the much lengthier, though no less action-packed Versus. Of course you can watch this film as the yakuza tale it is. Then again, you can watch this in light of the superb Versus which soon thereafter follows.

Heat After Dark explains much of the creative evolution taking place between Down to Hell and its "sequel" Versus.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This early work of Ryuhei Kitamura provides pure insight into his future films. Gun violence, yakuza style. General shootage and fall downage. Dude! In this Yakuza world, there are no females! An experiment into Yakuza character study and the notion of forcing the audience to sympathize with a "morally bad" protagonist.

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