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Shinjuku Triad Society - Black Society Trilogy (Miike Takashi 1995)


Shinjuku Triad Society
[Shinjuku Kuro Shakai: China Mafia Sensou]

Genre: Extreme Cop Versus Crime Syndicate

review in one breath

"I know a love story that's both sweet and sickening.
That's the way love really is."

These are the opening lines to Shinjuku Triad Society and this is precisely what this film delivers in eye-popping manner; a complex, disturbing, yet absolutely gratifying story of violent sacrifice for the sake of one's parents and sibling.

Black Society Trilogy

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

This film is director Miike Takashi's theatrical debut and is the first of three films known collectively as the Black Society Trilogy (the other two films being Rainy Dog (1997) and Ley Lines (1999) respectively.) Miike received a Best New Director nomination from the Director's Guild for this film, and the public success of Shinjuku Triad Society propelled Miike into the attention of a much wider audience than his previous (straight to video) productions received. This film thus marks the real beginning of a very remarkable and notorious cinematic career by Miike.

The film centers on the family and particularly the two sons of an elderly Sino-Japanese (Chinese-Japanese) man, Huang Long Ren, originally orphaned in China but who emigrated to Japan at the age of 16 once his Japanese father was discovered. Huang adopted the family name of his Japanese father, Kiriya. This mere characterization of Huang, of course, raises for Japanese audiences the ever-looming specter (and social consequence) of the Japanese army's behavior in China during the World War.

It is little wonder that this film caught the attention of Japan's public and film industry. Miike's directorial vision and aptitude create a thoroughly immersive tale which is simultaneously beautiful and gritty. The elderly immigrant's son is Tatsuhito Kiriya, a rough and tumble Shinjuku cop assigned to crimes within the ward's Chinese immigrant community. He is confronted with increasingly violent and brazen crimes attributed to Wang, renegade leader of the Dragon Claw Gang, a rebellious and problematic branch of an otherwise reserved Chinese Mafia within Shinjuku. Once Tatsuhito discovers his younger brother Yoshihito has gotten himself involved with the Dragon Claw and has suddenly gone missing, the elder brother's desperate hunt for his brother eventually brings him face to face with the wild-eyed killer Wang.

This is a rather complex tale and one gets the impression that Miike is tenaciously pursuing his own polished cinematic vision. By this I mean that this is not only a cross-cultural tale, but the storyline literally leads audiences back and forth between the seedy alleys of Shinjuku Tokyo and involved scenes of Taiwan ranging from the bustling Taipei to impoverished farm villages. Though perhaps lost upon Western audiences relying on subtitles, Miike's gritty narrative swings between Chinese and Japanese language, and more often than not involves a rough, accent-laden, Yakuza-style Japanese spoken by the many Chinese cast. What emerges is a dark and realistic image of an urbanized China-town whose more dangerous elements occupy darkened alleys and cunningly devised storefront covers. Once behind such facades, however, audiences will find themselves immersed up to their eye-balls (or at least somebody's eye-balls! heh) in Miike's notorious glamorization of rampant violence, brutality and sex.

Miike references widespread homosexuality throughout this sub-culture, no doubt to make it appear even more exotic and exaggerated. And indeed the film is rife with homo-eroticism, often introducing it in scenes where audiences may least expect it, resulting in some rather bizarre, if not simply humorous developments. Miike also delivers strongly on the violence and audiences coming to Shinjuku Triad Society in search of his notorious extremes will not go away disappointed.

But the story is by far greater than the sum of its scenes of sex and violence. The true value of Shinjuku Triad Society lies in its complexity as a cross-cultural tales whose protagonist himself is caught between cultures and loyalties. The film does not shy away from the discrimination and ostracization faced by foreigners in Japan, including that faced by the protagonist Tatsuhito as the son of a Chinese war orphan. Perhaps for this reason it is not a coincidence that Miike uses the phrase Black Society to refer to each of the tales in this trilogy. From ancient times Japanese have used the phrase Burakumin to refer to social outcasts, and to this day the phrase denotes pure discrimination. These Burakumin were denied jobs and freedoms based on this social status and were thus historically relegated to exclusively burakumin villages or regions. The phrase Burakumin easily translates into "Black Society".

Shinjuku Triad Society is an interesting and often shocking story. From within Miike's infamous style emerges a complex and violent tale grounded in a son's willingness to risk everything in order to preserve the family and dignity his immigrant parents have spent their lives nurturing. Here Miike proves himself to be a master director, not only of the shocking and bizarre, but also of the deeply human and visceral. This is definitely one which Miike fans will want to see.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
A gritty and satisfying tale of a brother's self-sacrifice and love for his family. Urban, cross-cultural and complex, this truly shows off some of Miike's best work. Major carnage. Let's just say this story literally starts with a chair across the face of a pretty young girl and picks up speed from there. Even granny isn't safe in this one. Youch. In this world, normal heterosexual sex is vastly outnumbered by, well, non-normal heterosexual sex, normal non-heterosexual sex, and non-normal non-heterosexual sex. I think you get the picture. (If not, watch the film.) Miike creates a convincingly exotic immigrant crime syndicate occupying the streets of Tokyo, but this is a fairly straight-forward action film pitting the love of family against some really, really nasty people.

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