ROTTERDAM 2000: Japanese Pics Bloody Fest, Fukasaku and Takahashi's Yakuza Films
by Edward Crouse
(indieWIRE/2.9.2000) -- Poor Kinji Fukasaku, his retrospective oversold in Rotterdam,
expectations rode so high that he couldn't --as a modest genre
professional -- help but pale next to recent Western re-discoveries like
Suzuki Seijun ("A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness") and Kim Ki-Young ("Killer
Those coming to Holland hoping to find a new Asian maniac-master seemed
clubbed by the air of the Yakuza (Japanese Gangster) wars, sinewy
90-minute epics that would introduce twenty-plus characters in rapid
freeze-frame only to have them sliced out by paintball gun-fire a few
seconds later. The Dutch air was so thick with Yakuza talk that a few
people even compared "Pola X"'s final deathwalk to the standard Japanese
Fukasaku was visibly embarrased at a Q&A when on a panel of younger
Japanese directors, one picked his "The Green Slime" -- a sci-fi pic
that gets regularly played on both American and Japanese syndicated TV
-- as the reason he began to make films.
However much Fukasaku stretched out in his career, his best films were
genre ones. One of the more awkward fits was the rarely-screened and
first independently produced "If You Were Young: Rage." On display in
the movie is a feeling of tenderness absent from his cut-up gangster
pics, but with all the crime stylistics applied to a coming-of-age youth
film. Imagine "Tin Men" with upside-down, hand-thrown cinemascopic,
changes, and his trademark multiple freeze-frame flashbacks, and you've
got some idea of what's going on in "If You Were Young: Rage."
Two of the Fukasakus fully attested to his status (after Ozu) as the
most natively influential director in Japan. 1966's "Graveyard of Honor"
has a wretched, smacked out Watari Tetsuya bargaining for one more
chance with the mob by consuming his wife's bones at a business meeting.
Those tired of Fukasaku's maximalism (one critic even accused Scorsese
of wedging two Fukasaku films together to make "Casino") got their
desserts with Fukasaku's grating, awesome nihilism.
"Yakuza Graveyard," made within a year of "Graveyard," even began to
address the narrative exhaustion of Yakuza movies, even as it
strengthened it. "Same hotel, same fuck, what's the point?" Rhythmically
varied, it's a three-way buddy movie between gruff cop (Tetsuya), an
ornery, slobby thug and a half-Korean mob wife. The day-for-night
scenes by the sea (Fukasaku's crowd shooting style in every film)
between wife and cop are more than a romantic hard-on. From the sea to
eternity, they roll into the ocean spray, missing each other's lips,
strengthening the thug's simple "we're all humans" argument. Fukasaku
is a master of both the horizontal and vertical possibilities of
Besides the 1/3-complete Fukasaku retro, upping the Japanese gangster
ante were three staggering Miike Takahashi movies, "Dead or Alive," "Ley
Lines" and "Audition." "It's like Fukasaku, as strong as he is
graphically, dried up the certain genre river he had swam in and now
madmen like Miike Takahashi relight that fucking river Styx," said Olaf
Mueller, an Austrian critic none too fond of Fukasaku's "Outlaw Master"
designation. The words came back to me as Miike's enervating "Dead or
Alive" unspooled. The movie owns a gnashing beginning, nauseating
middle and H-bomb of an end and little else.
Both Miike and Fukasaku were keen on stroboscopic cuts -- though not
MTV, Resnais, nor even the reveries of Fukasaku's postwar rattling could
have prepared one for "Dead or Alive's" lean, flashy,
narrative-nullifying first five minutes. Machine-gunning through
thousands of cuts were slices of grotesque udon noodle, a
cocaine-sprinkled playground slide, a David-Byrne-ish kingpin barking, a
caning, and a vicious take on vengeful men's room sodomy.
"Audition" found Miike in Italian horror-meister Dario Argento mode, one
that the director promised would have the crowd "crawling out of their
seats." And indeed, besides Leos Carax's misunderstood gigantist "Pola
X," "Audition" was the only film in the festival to have people running
for air by the end. The film's cool, meticulous revenge of innocence on
a well-intentioned guy was well-understood by those who stuck around for
the gore-flossing end.