Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, Ley Lines
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After several years spent working almost exclusively in the direct-to-video world of ''V-cinema'' in Japan, Takashi Miike announced himself as a world-class filmmaking talent with this trio of thematically-connected, character-centric crime stories about violence, the underworld of Japanese society, families both real and surrogate, and the possibly hopeless task of finding one's place in the world. His first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio, the ''Black Society Trilogy'' was the beginning of Miike's mature career as a filmmaker and they remain among the prolific director's finest works.
Set in the bustling Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood of Tokyo, Shinjuku Triad Society follows a mixed-race cop (Kippei Shiina, Outrage) struggling with private issues while hunting a psychotic criminal (Tomorowo Taguchi, Tetsuo the Iron Man) who traffics in children's organs. Rainy Dog, shot entirely in Taiwan, is about an exiled yakuza (Dead or Alive s Show Aikawa) who finds himself saddled with a son he never knew he had and a price on his head after the Chinese gang he works for decides to turn on him. Ley Lines moves from the countryside to the city and back, as three Japanese youths of Chinese descent (including The Raid 2's Kazuki Kitamura) seek their fortune in Tokyo, only to run afoul of a violent gang boss (Naoto Takenaka, The Happiness of the Katakuris).
Three of the most dramatically moving films created by the director, the ''Black Society Trilogy'' offers clear proof that Miike's frequent pigeonholing as a specialist in bloody spectacle is only one aspect of his filmmaking career, and taken as a whole, the films are among the finest works ever to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.
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Kicking off his career in the seedy, over-the-top "V-Cinema" arena (direct-to-video features that peaked in Japan in the mid-80s), Miike's work took a big leap forward with what's come to be known as The Black Society Trilogy. Set amongst the grim, gritty but sometimes-ridiculous world of the yakuza (Japanese gangsters), the three films balance intense moments of sex and violence with introspective lead characters and social-political commentary. That might sound like a typical indie cinema roadmap, but Miike, who's garnered just as much outrage as acclaim, is the sort of director you just can't predict once he gets behind the wheel.
Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) follows an equally unpredictable cop on the trail of a criminal trafficking in human organs. Rainy Dog (1997) is the sad profile of a yakuza hitman who's saddled with a son he didn't know he had. And, finally, Ley Lines (1999) circles around a quartet of criminal misfits trying to make a new start. That theme of escape and fragile emotional connections runs through each film, centered on a Chinese immigrant experience that doesn't paint a pretty picture. Miike's characters grab pleasure when they can; because life isn't just cheap...it's unpredictably short.
Bouncing between Scorsese-style gang warfare with a distinctly Japanese bent, Shinjuku Triad Society is the most schizophrenic of the trilogy. The script follows an ostensibly standard cop formula, but interrupts the investigation with in-your-face perversions (anal sex is used an interrogation device not once but twice) and a virulent strain of black humor. Rainy Dog is the most "American" of the bunch, often feeling like a macho take on the work of Walter Hill (The Warriors) complete with Ry Cooder sound-alike score. But it's also the most visually polished, with quick, dirty and effective action scenes that match anything in Hill's oeuvre. Ley Lines seems inspired by the freedom of the French New Wave, finding a genuine innocence amongst its desperately naive cast of characters.
Miike's skill as a director lies in his adaptability. Cranking out a minimum of three films a year, his career mirrors that of an old Hollywood craftsmen working in the studio system. While not always responsible for the films' content, he almost inevitably makes them better, working in the sort of genres that get little to no respect. The Black Society Trilogy is still unique in the way it drills down into the hearts and souls of characters who many would suspect didn't have either to begin with.
Arrow Video USA's set contains HD transfers of all three films along with audio commentaries for each by Miike biographer Tom Mes. Those tracks probably provide the most scene specific info, but Miike himself chimes in with a 45-minute interview discussing the start of his career and the Trilogy specifically (the director is humble, self-effacing and happy to give credit where it's due). Star Show Aikawa pops up for a new interview as well along with trailers and an illustrated collector's booklet.
Set in the bustling Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood of Tokyo, “Shinjuku Triad Society” (1995) is a very violent film about gang culture that follows a family feud separating two brothers, both of whom are Chinese/Japanese. Elder brother Tatsuhito Kiriya is a cop desperate to take down Wang, the leader of a homosexual gang, and will do anything to get his man. But younger brother Yoshiko has recently graduated from law school and has taken the job of representing the cruel crime boss.
“Rainy Dog” (1997), shot entirely in Taiwan, is about exiled yakuza Yuuji who begins working for a local crime boss, taking jobs wiping out rival gang members. One day, a former lover appears with a young mute boy she claims is his son and leaves him there for Yuuji to raise.
“Ley Lines” (1999) moves from the countryside to the city and back, as three Japanese youths of Chinese descent seek their fortune in Tokyo only to run afoul of a violent gang boss. Director Miike combines crime-related action, grim sex, and reprehensible characters.
All three films have a gritty look. Their themes relate to one another and reinforce Miike’s point of view. He tackles compelling ideas about family relationships, racial pride, and the isolation and alienation of modern society. Made on modest budgets with plenty of action, the Trilogy films offer an alternative to the Hollywood action picture.
Bonus extras on the unrated widescreen 2-disc Blu-ray release include new interviews with director Takashi Miike and actor Show Aikawa; new audio commentaries for all three films by a Miike biographer; original theatrical trailers; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork. The films are in Japanese, with optional English subtitles.