Friday, February 27, 2009

REVIEW: Scars of the Sun

太陽の傷 (Taiyo no Kizu)

Released: 2006

Takashi Miike

Sho Aikawa
Aiko Satô

Miho Ninagawa
Sei Hiraizumi
Yutaka Matsushige

Running time: 117 min.

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Katayama (Sho Aikawa) is just an average guy. He works as a draughtsman at an architectural firm and has a lovely wife, Yoko (Miho Ninagawa) and an adorable 6-year-old daughter, Ayano (Mao Sasaki), but one night on the way home from work all that changes. As he rides his bike through an underpass Katayama stumbles into the middle of the vicious beating of an elderly man by a group of teenage boys, so he does what most average guys would do and attempts to break things up. The old man gets away, but before he knows it Katayama is fighting off a half dozen teenagers armed with knives and an air gun with their leader, a hooded, lollipop sucking boy named Kimiki (Satoshi Morimoto) taking particular glee in having a younger and more agile adversary. Katayama and Kimiki go head to head, but when the police show up both end up in handcuffs. The minor and his young punk friends get released while Katayama, the good samaritan, is the one who gets the stern warning about beating up kids. It's a crazy, mixed up world, but all that Katayama can do is head home to his wife and daughter little knowing that his brief moment of heroism will jeopardize his entire family.

In 2006 the ultra-prolific Takashi Miike went from his Lars von Trier-inspired prison film "Big Bang Love Juvenile A" and his torturous (and ultimately banned from TV) entry into Showtime's "Masters of Horror" series "Imprint" to bring audiences a straight up revenge thriller that wouldn't have looked out of place in Clint Eastwood's or Charles Bronson's 1970s filmographies; but instead of major machismo and heavy duty fire power Miike dials his usual weirdness back and stresses mood and grief in his "Scars of the Sun".

Penned by 1999's "Nobody" director Toshimichi Ohkawa "Scars of the Sun" tells the classic story of an honest, hardworking man who ends up becoming a victim of the system that has been set up to protect him. After his run in with this group of delinquents Katayama and his wife get the feeling that they are being watched. It turns out that Kimiki isn't just a kid with a sweet tooth who leads a street gang, he's also a dangerous psychopath and he's made it his personal mission to teach Katayama that you don't step in when he and his boys are having a bit of fun. Repeated calls to the cops alerting them to Kimiki's threatening behaviour only amounts to a few platitudes about how the police can't do anything until Kimiki actually breaks the law. Katayama soon discovers that the only thing between his family and this crazed teenager are miles of bureaucratic red tape, and all these laws and regulations come too little and far to late when Katayama's young daughter is apprehended and murdered. For his crimes underage Kimiki gets a mere year and eight months in prison while Katayama has his life gutted and his wife jumping out of a five storey window. Now before you think I'm telling you the entire plot of "Scars of the Sun" let me reassure you that this is just the set up and that only once Kimiki is out of prison do the wheels of Katayama's revenge begin to turn.

I've been known for giving Miike a bit of grief from time to time. He's definitely one of contemporary Japanese cinema's most uneven filmmakers, but when he nails a picture he can be truly brilliant. "Scars of the Sun" is one that he hits spot on. As I said above you shouldn't expect any cow-headed gods or creative use of acupuncture needles in "Scars of the Sun". It's the small choices that Miike makes that elevates this film from being a pulpy, straight-to-video exercise to a really compelling take on the revenge genre. The casting against type of Sho Aikawa, who usually plays the part of a yakuza heavy in Miike's films gives "Scars of the Sun" an interesting twist, but it's the casting of androgynous newcomer Morimoto as Kimiki that is the real stroke of genius. For all the times that Morimoto is on screen we only ever get to see his face a couple of times. Every other shot has him hiding under the hood of his parka or shows him from behind. It's that sense of a faceless, unknowable evil, plus his nasal and child-like voice that makes his character truly terrifying. Add to that Miike's switching to black and white to reflect the colourless and grief-stricken world that Katayama inhabits and backing up the action with silence instead of an overly dramatic soundtrack and you have a film that doesn't just leave you feeling outraged at the sorry state of victims rights, but that also really gets under your skin.

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