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Wild Life (Aoyama Shinji 1997)


Wild Life

Genre: Good Tough Guy Meets Bad Tough Guys

review in one breath

Ex-boxer Sakai now lives a normal life fixing pachinko machines under the friendly eye of his aging boss Tsumura. When their long lost mutual friend Mizuguchi suddenly shows up, their placid routine is soon overrun with yakuza gangs and corrupt police officials, all of whom become increasingly hostile to Sakai and Tsumura. Believing Mizuguchi passed along "the package" to Sakai, they abduct the elderly Tsumura and attempt to blackmail and physically harass Sakai. Things look pretty bleak indeed until Sakai begins re-evaluating his pachinko-mending ways.


Wild Life is directed by Aoyama Shinji, two years prior to EM Embalming, a psychological (schlock) horror which does not resemble Wild Life in any aspect save perhaps the dramatic soundtrack. Out of Aoyama's 21 films (as listed in JMBD) I have to date only seen these two wholly divergent films and so cannot provide much insight into his directorial tendencies or favorite themes.

It is obvious however, that Wild Life is wholly humanitarian in its outlook. The characters of Sakai (Toyohara Kosuke) and Tsumura (Mickey Curtis) are thoroughly developed in both their relationships and contemplations so that the audience is forced to wholly empathize with their distress. But juxtaposed these two are similarly developed antagonists whose own humanitarian principles become the ground for the films climax and resolution.

Timidity, apathy, fear, love, sudden courage and brute force all blend well in this story of a young man who rediscovers himself in the midst of a life-threatening chain of events.


Ex-boxer Sakai Hiroki now works as a pachinko repairman for the kind and elderly Tsumura. Tsumura entered into to the gaming business many years back and was soon thereafter initiated into the yakuza's tight control over Tokyo's "entertainment" businesses. When corrupt cops brutally beat Mizuguchi, one of his employees, senseless as a warning, Tsumura quickly finds himself in shady and undesirable relationships with powerful local crime lords.

Years later, word of a videotape of the beating soon spreads after Mizuguchi suddenly appears. When the news reaches the ears of the yakuza, they soon appear in full intimidating force to obtain the tape. Tsumura and Sakai's life are soon thrown into a chaotic and dangerous hell which would appear hopeless, as they are soon both violently confronted by belligerent yakuza lords.


This is a well-rounded and enjoyable film on several levels. The ultimately humanitarian nature of the characters is done subtly and deliberately so that it is indeed convincing. And this is a key element to the film's success, since director Aoyama relies first upon the tensions of inner conflict and uses external action secondarily to buttress this. Thus it is not the action which rivets the viewer, but the viewer's wonderment as to how the temperament of Sakai will respond to these threats.

And this question is answered in a wholly satisfying and consistent manner. Fused with subtle humor throughout, the storyline makes the convincing transition from routine to spontaneous, from isolation to love, from timidity to courage.

This is recommendable and is appropriate for (older) youth and adults.

Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Nothing on the culture scale unless you need a little insight into the pachinko business. Some physical beatings and gun violence, most of which is implied and off-screen. Sakai's obviously first romantic encounter is as awkward to watch as it is embarrassing. Needless to say NO HOT ACTION HERE. Good-natured yakuza tale pitting a well-intentioned good guy against very rough circumstances.

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