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Gavin Schmitt

Blu-ray Review: "Shinjuku Triad Society" (1995)

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Amidst a Chinese and Japanese mafia war, a lawyer for the Chinese mob finds a rift forming between him and his corrupt police officer brother. Welcome to the "black society", the underworld that exists just beyond the periphery of our vision.

In this world, many of the characters have a grey, ambiguous morality, and (in the words of Tom Mes) "nobody does what you expect them to do." In this sense, the film is not terribly far removed from the classic noir with its gritty scenarios and anti-heroes. Of course, here it goes in directions never before considered.

The ethnic / nationality aspect is fascinating, even if not fully comprehensible to an American audience. We can understand the ancient divide between China and Japan, and appreciate how this battle is now playing out between the Triads and yakuza. But the use of a character half-Japanese, half-Chinese is brilliant. Americans who do not understand the languages or customs may miss the point, but for their culture it is no different than how we once thought of the "mulatto" -- rejected by both black and white cultures.

Sight & Sound noted the film was similar to the gangster films of Kinji Fukasaku, while noting that it still contained "scenes such as the one where sodomy is used as a police interrogation technique bear Miike's unmistakable signature." (Interestingly, neither Miike nor Fukasaku are primarily known for their gangster films -- Fukasaku is connected best to "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "Battle Royale".)

The film is one of the earliest examples of Miike's use of extreme violence. We have decapitated heads, eyes ripped from their sockets, and the aforementioned sodomy. The film also has some unsettling sexual aspects. Not quite on par with Miike's "Visitor Q", but what is?

Also worth noting is the soundtrack, which often sound like more 1980s synth than 1990s techno. Was this a style choice, or was Japan in a different musical era than the United States in 1995? Interestingly, this film is composer Atorie Shira's only credit. Another "anachronism" is a trunk shot very reminiscent of "Reservoir Dogs" (1992). Coincidence? It's no secret that Tarantino borrows from his favorite films, but was Miike borrowing from Tarantino?

Arrow Video has released the film as part of their Black Society Blu-ray box set, complete with an all-new audio commentary from Miike expert Tom Mes, the author of "Agitator". This is actually the second Mes commentary for the film, so anyone who has an old DVD can now hear him twice. (Interestingly, he feels this film has a "gothic element", which is not something that immediately comes to mind when you are talking about Miike.)

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