Reviewed by Chris MaGee
Sion Sono: the director’s name conjures up grotesque visions of teenagers committing suicide (“Suicide Circle”) and transgressive stories of incest and insanity (“Strange Circus”), but for his 2005 film “Hazard” Sono leaves the blood and perversity behind to tell the story of Shin (played by Japanese indie darling Jo Odagiri) a bored young Japanese man who, like many of his Western counterparts who become fascinated with the East, finds himself fixated on the United States and specifically New York City after reading that it is one of the “most hazardous cities in the world”. He escapes his humdrum life in Japan and lands in New York where he's promptly mugged, loses all his possesions and almost ends up homeless before being taken under the wing of a Japanese-American thug, Lee (Jai West) and his sidekick Takeda (Motoki Fusumi). What follows is a drug-fuelled rampage by these three unlikely allies through the grey streets of Manhattan.
While there are genuinely tense moments as we watch Lee, Takeda, and Shin ride around in an ice cream truck (loaded with some very special ice cream... it's laced with speed) and hold up liquor stores and night clubs there is also a sweetness and playfulness to these three young men; Takeda is in love with a woman who hands out menus in front of a restaurant and Lee is less a sociopathic criminal than a drugged up disciple of Walt Whitman, who he is constantly quoting. And for his part Shin watches doe-eyed as the party breaks out around him. This anarchic tale of youth is accentuated by the unexplained but very effective narration of the film by the voice of a little girl.
One thing that I kept thinking of while watching Shin slowly turn from being an innocent tourist to a young hoodlum was how this is what Takeshi Kitano’s 2000 film “Brother” should have been. Kitano’s story of yakuza rising through the ranks of LA street gangs and his exploration of the great American frontier was stilted, badly acted, and overly mannered even for a Kitano film…. And I love Kitano! What “Hazard” has that “Brother” didn’t, and what makes it far superior to that other well known film is the care that Sono takes with his characters. Although they can be violent, ridiculous, self-absorbed, and sometimes just plain dumb they are three living breathing young men, and watching them stretch their parameters in a new country (legally or illegally) is a real joy to watch. I’d definitely recommend this one.