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Ley Lines - Black Society Trilogy (Miike Takashi 1999)


Ley Lines
[Nihon Kuro Shakai]

Genre: Youth Yakuza Action

review in one breath

Ley Lines (Nihon Kuro Shakai) is the third and final film of director Miike Takashi's "Black Society Trilogy". Each of these films is an independent story and contains no overlap in location or characters. The commonality of these films lies in their exploration of an underground and ostracized world of crime populated by characters of mixed Japanese-Chinese ethnicity. The first of the trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society (Shinjuku Kuro Shakai: China Mafia Sensou), has a storyline which leads audiences from Tokyo to Taipei, Taiwan and back, while the second, Rainy Dog (Gokudo Kuro Shakai) takes place solely within Taiwan. This third film, Ley Lines follows the violent adventure of three Japanese-Chinese youth as they attempt to find passage off the Japanese Islands in the search of new beginnings.

Black Society Trilogy

Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)
Rainy Dog (1997)
Ley Lines (1999)

The term ley lines refers to the recently (re)discovered phenomena of ancient (pagan) holy sites which, though great distances apart, have been laid out upon a network of straight lines. In addition to possible astrological significance, such a layout would allow ancient pilgrims to travel from one holy site to the next by merely following a straight line. As regards this film, the title Ley Lines corresponds to the fact that our main characters are following some inner instinct and direction as they try desperately to find a way off the Japanese Islands and to a land where they will start anew. Such a direction is not supplied by society, family or even the yakuza. Rather, it is driven by their hope and vision of a new future, and their need to escape the discrimination and ostracization they face in Japan as Japanese-Chinese.

After coming of age in a remote rural village and tiring of its limited adventure, Ryuichi (Kitamura Kazuki), his younger brother Shunrei (Kashiwatani Michisuke) and childhood friend Cheng (Itou Yasaburo) head to Tokyo. Once there, their country naivete is quickly exploited by the prostitute Anita (Dan Li) and they suddenly find themselves with neither money nor shelter. The three find a form of employment from Ikeda (Aikawa Sho), a low level drug dealer selling the petroleum-based inhalant toulene. In an attempt to buy fake passports for themselves in order to leave Japan, they are introduced to Wong (Takenaka Naoto), a Triad money-lender whose thugs promptly beat Ryuichi to pulp. Without the prospect of passports, our three must pursue a more dangerous and much more expensive means of travel, the price of which can mean only one thing -- they will rob Wong of his extraordinary amounts of money and flee the country before he can locate them. And this they do, at least up to the "rob Wong" part. They immediately discover, however, as all hell breaks loose, that their escape off the island will be a much more treacherous task than they had imagined.

Cinematically and narratively, Ley Lines is perhaps the most polished of the Trilogy. The techniques of cinematographer Imaizumi Naosuke are eye-catching from the very first scenes of the film and crescendo in a rather impressive final shot which palpably conveys the final momentum of the storyline. The narrative is populated by interesting characters, the most developed of which are the brooding yet explosive Ryuichi, the thoughtful Shunrei, and the jester-like Cheng. Other interesting characters include the brow-beaten yet spunky prostitute Anita (aka "Wild Pussy") and the Shanghai fairy-tale craving Triad boss, Wong. Though Ley Lines certainly has its share of violence and sex, the film relies upon the characters themselves and their intuitions of loyalty to family and friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the three films making up the Black Society Trilogy. The difference in style and storytelling among the three is remarkable and makes this Trilogy quite distinct from a sequence of sequels. The portrayal of violent and sexual extremes for which Miike is notorious also differs among these three films, with Shinjuku Triad Society being the most extreme in both categories, Rainy Dog containing virtually neither, and Ley Lines falling somewhere in the middle. The most endearing facet of all three, however, is their exploration and focus upon the relationship of a socially ostracized class of Chinese immigrants with their new homeland, Japan. In the Black Society Trilogy (the first film of which was Miike's theatrical debut) Miike repeatedly tackles very complex scenarios which require the convincing mingling of languages, cultures, urban landscapes, and heart-felt loyalties.

Ley Lines and the entire Black Society Trilogy can easily be recommended to not only Miike fans but to those interested in observing a gritty Japanese perspective on the social isolation of foreign born immigrants and mixed-ethnicity offspring living and surviving in Japan.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
The last in Miike's Black Society Trilogy. More dark insight into the back-alley underworld of Tokyo's Chinese population. Predominantly gun violence and general beat upage. Two deaths by truck. One bloated death by excessive intake of liquids. They don't call her Wild Pussy for nothing. Meow! A fast-paced story full of action and violence. Portrays an impressive adventure of 'Escape from Japan'.

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