Thank god for Takashi Miike! Even though his output can be a little uneven at times I don’t know of any other director working today who can juggle a live action kid’s creature extravaganza like “The Great Yokai War” and then leap so comfortably into something as experimental as 2006’s “Big Bang Love Juvenile A”. When he's on his game like this his work is a joy to watch mainly because we get to see an artist who just seems to be reveling in the boundless possibilities of filmmaking. For “Big Bang Love” Miike channels the cinematic vocabulary of German Expressionist films, Lars von Trier’s ultra-minimalist “Dogville”, and the recent films of his fellow countryman and artistic ancestor Seijun Suzuki to elevate the investigation of a murder in a prison to a story about men caught at a crossroads between their past misdeeds and the very difficult choices of an uncertain future.
Ariyoshi (Ryuhei Matsuda) has strangled his cellmate Kazuki (Masanobu Ando) to death. His only words to the guards who pull him off Kazuki’s lifeless body are “I did it”. It seems like a clear cut case of murder, but when ligature marks are found around Kazuki’s throat the investigators have to start asking questions. Why would Ariyoshi strangle Kazuki after he was already dead? It could fit his M.O. Ariyoshi is serving a sentence for murdering and then mutilating the body of a man who tried to rape him, but something doesn’t feel right. Could he be covering for someone else? And if so, who? Kazuki had been violent, erratic and been in and out of prison most of his life; he had a lot of enemies, but who hated him enough to kill him? Could it be the young man who works with Ariyoshi on laundry duty who was rumored to be having sex with Kazuki? Could it be the warden of the prison (played to chilling effect by Ryo Ishibashi) whose family had suffered from Kazuki’s violent tendencies before? Masa Nakamura, who has collaborated with Miike before on “Bird People of China”and “Dead or Alive 2”, provides a screenplay filled with twists and turns, but he and Miike also delve heavily into symbolism when telling this who-done-it.
The key to “Big Bang Love” is delivered in the monologue by Kenichi Endo that opens the film. Sitting in the interrogation room he goes on about the speed of light, and how if one were to travel at just the right speed away from earth that you could see both into the past and into the future at the same time. It’s from this interstellar sweet spot that Miike sets his film. The inmates in the prison have been truly arrested and seem to haunt someplace outside of time, doing penance before they’re allowed to return to our world of cause and effect. It’s in this other place that Ariyoshi and Kazuki fall in love and have to choose between the road to oblivion, symbolized by the rocket, or the road heaven, depicted as an ancient Mayan pyramid.
The region 1 Animeigo DVD of “Big Bang Love Juvenile A” prominently features a quote from Miike declaring this as “his masterpiece”, but one can only hope that this isn’t the case. At only 47 years old there should be many more “masterpieces” in Miike’s future, and that should be something to look forward to.