Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy
Shinjuku Triad Society (November 14/04)
Typically unpleasant and confusing effort from Takashi Miike, revolving around a dirty cop in pursuit of a gay warlord (no, really). The storyline is jam-packed with superfluous elements and underdeveloped characters, though - admittedly - the film is far less obtuse than your average Miike flick. At its core, this is essentially a cops and robbers story - albeit one with over-the-top violence and blacker-than-black humor - though Miike (not surprisingly) isn't content to allow things to play out in a traditional manner. By throwing in everything and the proverbial kitchen sink, Miike makes it impossible for the audience to ever connect with a single thing that's happening onscreen; his expectedly busy camerawork becomes tiresome almost immediately, while the neverending emphasis on seediness leads to a film that's disagreeable virtually from start to finish.
Rainy Dog (December 31/04)
To call Rainy Dog an improvement over Shinjuku Triad Society is certainly an understatement, and indeed, the film is probably Miike's most accomplished and coherent effort - though it's still suffering from a whole host of problems. The story follows a hitman named Yuuji (Sho Aikawa) whose solitary existence is interrupted when an ex-lover shows up unexpectedly with his adolescent son, forcing the recluse to take the boy on various jobs. But when Yuuji kills the brother of a prominent Yakuza, he is left with no choice but grab his kid and start running. Though Rainy Dog's premise is undeniably quite intriguing, it's the execution that prevents the film from becoming anything more than a slightly above-average Miike flick. The glacial pace and relentless emphasis on seediness is overwhelming, making it virtually impossible to really get into the story until practically the very end. The last 20 minutes, as a result, are actually quite engaging and even a little moving - something one certainly doesn't associate with a film by Miike.
Ley Lines (January 2/05)
The set concludes with this excruciatingly pointless story about three teenagers who leave their small town in search of a better life, eventually crossing paths with a world-weary prostitute. Along the way, they raise the ire of a local crime boss - leading to an expectedly violent showdown. Ley Lines takes so long to get going that it's virtually impossible to care once it does, and perfectly exemplifies Miike's inability to effectively pace his films. The entire first half hour of the movie is incredibly disorienting and jarring, as Miike inexplicably postpones the introduction of the film's central characters - choosing instead to bombard the viewer with images of sleaze (accompanied by, of course, distractingly low-tech directorial flourishes). It doesn't help that there's not a single likable character to be found here, something that's particularly problematic given that the film focuses exclusively on the antics of these people. Ley Lines may appeal to Miike completists, but it's highly unlikely casual fans will find much here worth embracing.