For Takashi Miike fans, Arrow’s release of his Black Society Trilogy will be a welcome addition to a relatively small Miike Blu-Ray shelf. There’s a spectrum of low-budget straight-to-video releases and TV movies which have never seen a release in the West, even with his global status as a horror icon. The trilogy consists of Shinjuki Triad Society (1995), Rainy Dog (1997) and Ley Lines (1999), three films which share no characters, instead addressing rootlessness, racism and criminality in Japan.
Shinjuki Triad Society is one of Miike’s most important films and his first made specifically for theatrical release. Not surprisingly, it’s much better than most of his earlier work, fusing gorgeous visuals with great editing and a bit of Miike’s distinct nastiness. Between corrupt Yakuza cop Kiriya (Kippei Shina) and deranged sadist Wang (Miike’s regular Tomorowo Taguchi) there’s plenty of shocking moments and some superb shootouts. It’s a gangster film with a real Gonzo approach to the Tokyo underground and its many shady inhabitants which, in a way, makes Miike feel like a stylistic cousin to Abel Ferrara.
Rainy Dog is the odd one of the three. Rather than being about groups of Chinese and Japanese men who hide their true Nationality, it follows a Japanese hitman marooned in Taipei. Unlike Shinjuki Triad Society it never feels totally like a thriller, instead embracing Noir imagery and a Western-themed soundtrack for an oddball drama about a hitman and his young son. You could view Rainy Dog as a reply to Leon: The Professional. As bombastic as that might sound, Rainy Dog is a surprisingly restrained film about an unlikely family trying to survive gang revenge in a rainy sleazy town.
Ley Lines continues Miike’s discourse on criminality and youth, this time playing out like a Japanese Trainspotting (1996). Miike focuses on a young man (Kazuki Kitamura- Killers) and his friends, who face discrimination for their Chinese lineage and turn to crime. It’s perhaps Miike’s most politically charged film, looking at a generation neither accepted into Japanese society, or drawn to the culture of their parents. It’s an angry film full of tragedy, but it also has time to laugh.
As a trilogy these films are perhaps more interesting as a three-part transition in Miike’s career. From his early straight-to-video days, right up to his breaching of the international audience via Audition, the Black Society Trilogy follows Miike’s expansion of subject matter and visual prowess.
BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: TAKASHI MIIKE / SCREENPLAY: ICHIRÔ FUJITA, SEIGO INOUE, ICHIRO RYU / STARRING: KIPPEI SHIINA, TOMOROWO TAGUCHI, TETSUYA IKEDA, SHOW AIKAWA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW