Small town Japan may have bad customer service, but at least you get extra food sometimes.
Content warning: depiction of animal cruelty
A Yakuza meeting is taking place at a restaurant. None of the underbosses have anything to report, so the Boss immediately starts asking about another guy’s sex life. One man, Ozaki, distracts him by saying that he is going to tell a joke. He directs everyone’s attention to the little dog outside and says that it is a Yakuza attack dog that will kill him. The Boss humors him for a bit, but then Ozaki goes outside, takes the dog from the women who were holding it, and utterly destroys it. Everyone looks at him in shock.
Content warning: depiction of other stuff
Minami is Ozaki’s subordinate. He is driving Ozaki to the city of Nagoya to check on other crews. Ozaki says that this is a crazy idea, that the Boss is too obsessed with sex at his age, and that he must be taken out. Minami says that he still owes his life to Ozaki and will give his life him regardless of what he decides to do. It is clear, however, that Minami is having doubts. This is especially so when Ozaki forces him to stop the car in the middle of the road because he claims that the car that is following them is remodeled to kill Yakuza. Ozaki goes to kill the utterly harmless-looking driver, but Minami knocks Ozaki to the ground and yells at the driver to drive away.
It turns out that the Boss had already known that Ozaki was thinking of killing him. He has tasked Minami with getting rid of Ozaki by taking him to something called the dump. Minami also has doubts about this, but they appear to be solved when he suddenly stops the car after somehow noticing only at the last moment that the bridge over a river is gone. The sudden stop throws Ozaki’s body around, apparently killing him.
Minami tries to call the Boss, but finds not reception on his cell phone. He finds his way towards some suburban area outside of Nagoya and goes into a restaurant in hopes of using the phone there, leaving Ozaki in the car. Unfortunately, someone is on the phone babbling about the weather. So he orders coffee…and they give him complimentary soup. He eats the soup while one of the only other customers stares at him. When the customer says that Minami is not from Nagoya, Minami runs to the bathroom to vomit. The customer who was on the phone is finally off of the phone, so Minami is about to use it when he looks outside and sees that Ozaki is no longer in the car. He runs back into the restaurant to see if Ozaki came in while he was in the bathroom, but everyone denies seeing him. He finally calls the Boss, who is furious about this sudden change. The Boss tells Minami to go look for a local crew and tells him the address.
The address that the Boss gave Minami has become a monastery. The monk tells him to ask a police officer, but Minami concludes that the police might be more troublesome than helpful. He gets in his car to drive to…well, it doesn’t matter, because he almost immediately gets a flat tire…from a bone? This gets the attention of a man who was sitting in a field looking what looks like a nudie magazine. The man, whose name we will eventually find out is Nosechi, says that there would be plenty of tires at the factory and then takes him to a junkyard. It is there that Minami notices a vehicle with the name of the crew that the Boss told him about. There is a man inside who says that he can help Minami find Ozaki, but really just sends Nosechi to help him out.
Nosechi is in no rush, so he tells Minami that he should check into an inn for the evening and that they will start the search the next day. The place that they find is run by a pair of elderly siblings. Nosechi thinks Minami’s room is nice enough that he wants to stay as well, but Minami refuses. The sister, who seems to run the place, offers to give Minimi dinner, but suggests that he take a bath first. She gets a little…intrusive during his bath, though, so he shoos her away as well. When he finally does get his meal back in the room, there are two portions of everything. Again, it is complimentary.
The next morning, he wakes up to three servings of breakfast. An injured Nosechi meets him outside and they go to the restaurant where Minami had last seen Ozaki. There are the same two customers from the day before. Nosechi goes over to see if he can talk to them, and it turns out that they recognize him from school. They start to reminisce when an impatient Minami comes over and demands answers. The two customers and the employees claim to have no idea who he is, so he starts getting aggressive. Nosechi says has had enough with Minami and tells him to go on alone, but then leaves a note telling him to wait back at the inn.
When Minami returns to the hotel, the sister asks whether he found the person whom he was looking for. When he says that he has not, she says that her brother has powers that can summon the spirit of others. Maybe a spirit can come to him and provide clues about this missing person. Minami is skeptical about this, but he eventually agrees. And that is when the story gets strange.
Actually, that is not entirely true; the movie has been strange from the very beginning, it just gets a bit more difficult to downplay the weirdness in the second half of the movie.
This is a Takashi Miike film, so it is almost a given that a bit of strangeness will be involved. Because he is a strange man who probably has some serious hangups. This movie, though, seems to emphasize context over content. There is some violence, sexual kinks, identity politics, and zaniness. Yet all of that is toned down to give the film a tone of general unease to match the protagonist’s state of mind. Sure, some of that is funny, but it elicits more anxious nervous chuckles than laughter.
Some of that, though not all of it, may be due to it originally being conceived as a direct-to-video movie, before being repurposed as a theatrical release. There is not as big of a stigma for direct-to-video movies in Japan as there had been in the United States before streaming services and COVID-19 messed up the entire hierarchy, but it may explain why the movie may come across as seeming low budget at times. I do not want to go into too many details as to what happens in the movie, not necessarily because it would spoil the story, but that simply saying what happens may be misleading in how the story is presented. Just saying that something happens can obscure the slow buildup and the excruciating detail put into the action. So if you start watching the film and notice that I left out some key details in my summary of the first half of the movie, know that that was deliberate.
There are so many ways to interpret this film, so I will try to touch on only a few theories, a couple of which can co-exist. One way of looking at the film is as a hero’s journey, with pretty much everything being drenched in Buddhist and Greek religious symbolism. Another way of seeing the story is that Minami’s misery over his torn loyalties forces him to enter a world where Ozaki is both dead and still alive. Another concerns sexuality and sexual identity, with Minami not being able to figure out how to live the way that he feels inside. Another way of approaching the story is Minami being a toddler with the mind and body of an adult, so all of the strange things that happen in the movie are simply a warped understanding of what adulthood entails. Yet another way of watching the movie is to remember Ozaki’s line about everything being a joke and nothing is actually supposed to make sense in any context. Whatever the case may be, trying to understand the plot and character development will probably result in a headache…unless you interpret this as a dream that a child is having after watching Yakuza movie…and that is cheating.
Again, I do not want to get into too many spoilers in this post, but I will say this: after the slow build of the strange things that go on in the movie, it ends very abruptly. It takes only a few seconds for what can be barely called a resolution before the credits start to roll. This is obviously deliberate, of course; but why? Just one more way to throw off the audience? Maybe that lends credence to the interpretation that the movie is a joke. The story does not have a climax, but a punchline.
If I were less averse to spoilers here, I could probably go on and on about this movie. As things are, though, I may have already said too much. So I will just say this. I highly enjoyed this movie. Again, I ordered the DVD off of Amazon before seeing a frame of this movie and I regret nothing…well, my DVD does not seem to like it when I try to fast-forward or rewind it, but the movie itself is great.
WTF ASIA 133: Detective Chinatown (China: 2015, approx. 136 minutes)
WTF ASIA 134: A Taxi Driver (South Korea: 2017, approx. 138 minutes)