Shinjuku Triad Society (1995): Japan – directed by Takashi Miike
Not rated by the MPAA – contains all manner of bizarre and aberrant behavior, violence, sex, various taboo material
Shinjuku Triad Society is Takashi Miike’s first theatrically released film and the first part of the Black Triad Trilogy. With its unique mix of bizarre and extreme violence and taboo sexual material, it would go on to characterize much of his filmography. While it is not as polished or as highly-budgeted as some of his better known films, like Audition or Ichi the Killer, and doesn’t contain quite as much pure exuberance in its content, it is still an interesting and strange film.
There may be a plot, though it is hard to fully discern storylines and characterizations in many of Miike’s films. It is a Yakuza film, like much of Miike’s work, and features a cop whose dealings are sometimes nearly as suspect as the gangsters’. A raid at a nightclub opens the film, and it ends rather violently. A cop’s throat is slashed by a male prostitute who may have connections to a local triad. A girl is taken into custody and interrogated, with a chair used as encouragement.
Both the male prostitute and the girl, who turns out to be some kind of nymphomaniac, are controlled by the local Yakuza boss, Wan (Tomorowo Taguchi). He rules his group of generally homosexual underlings, and may even be involved in schemes worse than prostitution and murder. The cop, Kiriya (Kippei Shiina), soon begins to suspect that Wan is behind a group that deals in organ smuggling, primary from children. He even ventures to Taiwan to further investigate, against the orders of his superior officer. Taiwan is lush and green, almost vibrant compared to every single shot of Japan, where the cities are dull and dank, dirty and dark.
The plot eventually works itself out in some fashion, though Miike seems more concerned with his characters and their behavior than any semblance of coherent story. Not that the story is impossible to follow (his miniseries MPD Psycho (Multiple Personality Detective) [review here] is rather more confusing) or purposefully incoherent; rather, there are so many elements involved that it can be difficult to keep track of the story’s nuances.
Miike loves to throw every sort of taboo behavior, sexual, violent, or otherwise, into his films. If I were to list everything in the movie it might make one want to puke. But there’s something strange about Miike’s oeuvre. No matter how much disgusting and disturbing content he throws at the audience, I’m rarely disturbed or shaken. There’s just so much of it that the effect is rather desensitizing. There is no single disturbing moment that is painfully memorable. I’m not sure I enjoy the strange behaviors exhibited by Miike’s characters. I think I am instead fascinated that someone could think up all of these bizarre and insane elements and actually fit them into a film. Nothing like this could be made in the United States. The shock factor is always so monumental that it is almost impossible to be shocked further. I have enough respect for Miike to believe that he has a point to make about society and humanity, but I haven’t yet had the time to deeply analyze his films and discern his intent.
I realize I haven’t discussed the film so much as Miike’s overall body of work. On its own, Shinjuku Triad Society is a fairly standard Yakuza story spiced up with a great deal of bizarreness and absurdity. It is not bad, and is actually rather engaging. The production is typical for Miike’s early career: the film looks almost like it was made on video, though it was probably just inferior film stock and cameras. But he had a budget, as evidenced by the use of large sets, city streets, and an experienced cast, and the film never feels like an independent film or low-budget schlock-fest.
Fans of outrageous Japanese cinema will be interested in Shinjuku Triad Society, if only to see where modern entries like Tokyo Gore Police [review here] got their inspiration. Fans of standard Yakuza dramas might be turned off by the insanely disturbing content. Mostly, Shinjuku Triad Society will appeal to hard-core Miike fans hoping to get a glimpse of his not-so-humble beginnings.