Movie Review By Alex Lau
If you think of a Japanese film, you probably think of Akira Kurosawa, or Godzilla, or maybe even "Shall We Dance?" Well, none of those stereotypes apply to "Gonin," a Japanese film originally released in 1995, directed by Takashi Ishii.
The basic premise is that a disco owner is in debt to the yakuza, aka the mob, and because the Japanese economy is floundering, he can't pay it off. So he hatches a scheme, with four other people, to steal the money from the local yakuza in order to pay them back. Of course the yakuza aren't thrilled about this idea, so they contract with a couple of professional killers to hunt down the five of them.
What makes "Gonin" more than just your average gangster caper film is that Ishii is not afraid to show just about anything, even if it seems like it's just for shock value. For instance, a lot of the homoeroticism that is usually sublimated in an action genre movie is in your face here. The relationships between the characters are all dark and desperate, and more than a little confusing. The violence is so commonplace, you can almost forget that in Japan, handguns are illegal. And there are not one, but two rape scenes, one of which is homosexual.
Director Ishii's disjointed style adds to the edginess. Sometimes he jump cuts, and sometimes he mixes dream sequences fluidly in with the action. It's hard to explain, but it's very disorienting to hear the musical score build to a crescendo and then abruptly cut away to another scene. It all seems a little indulgent in its intentional incoherentness.
And yet there is a method to the madness. The set design, acting, and seemingly incoherent cutting come together as to create a vision of people so desperately in need of love, money and power that dignity, and even life itself, is secondary.
Translated as "The Five," "Gonin" is not for everyone, but if you can stomach the ultra-violence and make some sense of the byzantine relationships., this wild ride through the dark side of Japan is worth a look.
© 1998 - Alex Lau - Air Date: 3/11/98
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