U.S. release tile: Tokyo Rampage
Genre: Psychotically Anti-Social Neo Yakuza Youth
Director: Toyoda Toshiaki (1998)
review in one breath
Here is an absolutely excellent film for fans of the contemporary neo yakuza genre. Director Toyoda Toshiaki may be better known to Western audiences for Blue Spring (Aoi Haru), another excellent nihilistic urban youth tale, which he directed 3 years after this film. Set in the urban youth culture of Shibuya, Tokyo, Pornostar offers its own exploration of the impact of yakuza influence upon youth culture. By creating a truly unique protagonist, which is simultaneously beyond morality yet somehow set against the moral scourge of the yakuza, Toyoda leads his audience into the deepest corners of Tokyo's influential sub-culture of crime.
The internationally recognized title of this film is indeed Pornostar. For some reason, Image Entertainment, who were lucky enough to get their hands on the license of this film, opted for the English title "Tokyo Rampage". This is a shame since the film's original title Pornostar had been circulated far in wide amidst highly favorable underground buzz prior to any Western release. The original title, which is indeed titillating, remains one of the most highly searched on titles. No doubt because those having heard of Pornostar are unable to locate it. That's because it was released in the West under the title "Tokyo Rampage". Get it? I'll let Image Entertainment explain why they opted for a totally unheard of English title in the face of a Japazillion hungry j-film fans looking for a film called Pornostar. Go figure.
The film has an excellent soundtrack which substantially adds to the gritty urban visuals. Much like the more recent Kyouki no Sakura (2002), this attempts a cutting-edge vision of youth counter-culture and youth despair. The main protagonist, which to my knowledge remains unnamed throughout the narrative (though both jmdb and imdb name as "Arano") is played by the amazingly scowl-faced Chihara Koji, which fans of extreme Japanese film will recognize as the Aikido bully extraordinaire (!!) in 1-Ichi. Chiharu's performance in Pornostar comes across as not only creepy but formidable. And his convincingly ice-cold morality makes this film into the powerhouse that it is.
His face obscured by the hood of his jacket, a dead-eyed youth gets off Tokyo's Yamanote line at Shibuya station. Amid bustling afternoon crowds, he makes his way hurriedly, carrying a large, heavy duffel bag. His dead gaze flickers to life as soon as he sees two men scalping tickets on the street corner. Openly asserting that they are yakuza selling worthless tickets, they roughly escort him toward the boss' lair. By the time they arrive, however, the youth has fatally cut them down with his pocket knife. But this does not end the episode, as the youth walks directly into the boss' lair and confronts him.
Present at this violent scenario is Kamijo (Onimaru), son of a recently deceased Shibuya crime lord. On the streets of Shibuya Kamijo is respected and feared, although we quickly learn that he does not quite have the heart of a ruthless yakuza. When asked by the boss to kill this problematic youth, Kamijo soon finds in him a strange partner to confide.
Fueled by money, power and duty to superiors, Kamijo and his band of disciples must press forward with the task given them by the boss. In order to demonstrate Kamijo's maturity into the yakuza lifestyle, not only was he to kill our protagonist, but was also ordered to kill Matsunaga, a major player in Shibuya underworld affairs. But while Kamijo and his league pursue these purely out of a sense of obligation and fear toward the boss, our protagonist has his own overpowering motivation, the intense desire to completely exterminate any yakuza figure he encounters. This instinctive drive will inevitably bring him to a face off with Kamijo.
This is truly a cool and riveting story. Scenes of the littered busy streets of Shibuya are contrasted with the overly plush hangouts of Kamijo and his gang. The soundtrack is excellent and the cast is convincing and entertaining, including some major names like Maro Akaji (Jisatsu Circle and Kamen Gakuen) playing the yakuza boss and Sugimoto Tetta (Alive and Makai Tensho) playing Matsunaga. Though our protagonist has some major psychological baggage, he emerges from his shell in a couple situations, causing us to wonder whether he somehow might return to a state of normalcy. This possibility, however, is utterly dashed to pieces by the relentless emergence of yakuza influence. For reasons we do not know, our protagonist finds himself obsessed and hell-bent on destroying everything yakuza he encounters.
This is definitely one to catch if you like contemporary urban youth flicks or neo yakuza fare. You won't be disappointed.
P.S.: I have no idea why the name of this film is Pornostar. There is no mention of porn here nor any star. The film's name seems to contain absolutely no relation to the film's storyline or characters.
Version reviewed: Region 0 DVD (includes English subtitiles)
|Interesting contemporary social tale from a counter-yakuza perspective.||Plenty of suggested and depicted knife/sword violence.||Brief, amazingly plump nudity. Nothing to write home about.||Absolutely cool. Ride this into a memorable experience.|