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Revolver (Watanabe Takashi 2003)


[Riborubaa: Aoi Haru]

Genre: Youth Self-Discovery

review in one breath

Revolver is directed by Watanabe Takashi, whose earlier work leans primarily toward themes of guns and yakuza. His latest films, which include this one, focus on an overlap of such social violence and fringe groups of high school youth. The Japanese term Aoi Haru which appears as the subtitle of this film, though literally translated "Blue/Green Spring", is a common idiom connoting the vigor and wide-eyed expectation of youth. (Due to a long running manga by that title.) Thus here Watanabe presents audiences with a rather entertaining and thoughtful tale wherein the naivete of three high school boys is challenged by a brush with harsher realities.


Our small gang of youth is comprised of Osamu (Tamaki Hiroshi), whose primary interest seems to be in the opposie sex, Tatsutoshi (Moriyama Mirai), whose greatest wish is to be a star soccer player despite his great lack of skill, and Koji (Sato Ryuta), who is apparently incapable or unwilling of speech and serves as the gang's joker. These three are slackers in every sense of the word. While they are not dozing off on the school's roof, they hang out in a run-down shack serving as their HQ. They live in a rural area on the sea shore (Chiba-ken?) where the pace of life seems much slower than in the bustling city.

Their daily routine of goofing off is interrupted when a little boy approaches their HQ and delivers a hand-drawn map, apparently pointing them toward some sort of treasure. Though skeptical at first, their lack of anything else to do soon has them diligently following the route and to the very spot marked with a large red "X". At the location they find a small sign informing them to dig, after which they discover a small metal box. Inside they find a revolver loaded with only three bullets.

This, of course, is a "great discovery" which immediately has them pondering all the glorious things they could do with it. With only three bullets, however, it seems their options are limited. They accidentally shoot the first bullet while they excitedly play with the gun, nearly killing Tatsutoshi in the process. For a price of $300, they allow a "gun mania" class mate to shoot the second bullet. The three then realize that "selling shots" like this could be a source of easy money if they could only get their hands on more bullets. So they set out for Shinjuku, Tokyo fueled by rumors of yakuza willing to sell bullets. After the long train ride from their town to the city, they head straight for the heart of the district, Kabuki-cho.

[Note: For those unaware, handguns are for the most part outlawed in Japan, making attempts to obtain one or the ammo used for one nearly impossible. The general source for illicit handguns, of course, is the yakuza. This underground sale of handguns and ammo plays a part not only here, but is a predominant theme in others films such as Bullet Ballet .]

Though full of self-confidence and bravado, it soon becomes glaringly apparent that our three youth are like three small flies walking into a large spider web. Before long, each is inadvertently separated from the others, placing them on their own adventurous path which will test the bounds of their naivete and self-judgment. Osamu will eventually encounter (and end up in the bed of) a prominent AV (adult video) girl (Maeda Ayaka). Tatsutoshi runs into a robust and alcoholic salaryman (Osugi Ren) outside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium. And Koji... well, he befriends a very large, yellow chikadee mascot.

When the three eventually learn that the revolver was a "gift" from an aged and dying yakuza boss who from his hospice room could see them slacking off daily at their HQ, they are forced to ponder the meaning of receiving only three bullets. They realize that the three bullets represent the three of them and that the Yakuza was predicting that their lives would be spent as meaninglessly as the bullets would be. This revelation, following their Shinjuku adventures, has them seriously wondering the value and meaning of their aimless lives. They decide to take up the yakuza's challenge and use the last bullet as a means to "walk into hell and back".


Without knowing much about this film prior to watching it, I sat down expecting the sort of extreme youth nihilism exhibited in Aoi Haru and Kyouki no Sakura (both excellent stories). But whereas the deliquency of the key characters in Aoi Haru is established through flirtation with suicide, and in Kyouki no Sakura through brutal youth-gang violence, the delinquency of the gang of three in Revolver amounts to them smoking on the roof of the school. They are neither philosophically nihilistic nor prone to violence. And although they are overly-confident and can put up a good front at times, these rural youth are in fact harmless, if not good-natured for the most part.

And this makes their story quite different from the others mentioned. Although nihilism, violence, despair and suicide are here in trace amounts, director Watanabe intends to tell a much more humanitarian tale with endearing rather than frightful characters. Their misadventures in the big city stem as much from their rural naivete as from any social malaise or seedy underbelly. This makes for a more light-hearted, often humorous story which I found both engaging and entertaining.

I thought the cast here was really good. Tamaki Hiroshi, who made his video/film debut in Christmas Eve makes for a very convincing aimless youth and thoroughly carries this narrative along. And Osugi Ren spectacularly plays perhaps the most drunken salaryman I have ever witnessed. Extraordinary! This was a fun, serious story and easy to watch. No significant stretches of the imagination are required to make these characters believable or their situations plausible. The film's conclusion is undoubtedly the climax and the audience will find themselves, for the most part, invested in the outcome.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Good-natured tale of the "aimless youth meet urban social malaise" variety. Strong moral message and an excellent cast. Plenty of gun waving. Several in-your-face scenes of potential violence and suicide. Okay, so Osamu does meet an AV girl who gets them both drunk and undressed. But things quickly go downhill when she starts talking about her father... This story sets itself apart by NOT over-indulging in unrealistic degrees of violence and nihilism. This creates a much more realistic and believable narrative.

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