Friday, January 15, 2010

REVIEW: Ley Lines

日本黒社会 (Nihon kuroshakai)

Released: 1999

Takashi Miike

Shô Aikawa
Samuel Pop Aning

Yukie Itou
Michisuke Kashiwaya
Naoto Takenaka

Running time: 105 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

"If you're Japanese, you should follow the Japanese rules"

There's a reason why Takashi Miike's triptych of films (wrapped up by 1999's "Ley Lines") is called the Black Society Trilogy...And it's not a very flattering one. Each film looks at characters stranded from the mainstream of society and essentially kicked to the curb to be flushed down the sewer. It also just so happens that all these characters have genetic ties outside of Japan (most commonly China), which, at least in Miike's view, appears to be something not at all encouraged by the local culture and its people.

"Ley Lines" addresses this right up front via its initial two scenes. The first shows two small boys skipping and singing along near a field. These two brothers are suddenly accosted by a group of other boys and teased due to their mixed backgrounds (father Chinese, mother Japanese). As the group departs, they start singing the tune the two boys were just singing as if to say, "No, you can't even use our songs". The next scene has a government office worker stating the quote from the beginning of this review to a young man (the adult version of one of the two boys) who is attempting to get a passport so that he may go to Brazil. The office worker, knowing the applicant is half Chinese, imparts the news that he cannot get a passport while on probation in a terribly condescending fashion. It's not overly surprising then, that the two brothers (and a friend who is also of mixed heritage) run off to the city looking for an opportunity to escape.

As the strongest film of the trilogy, it may also be the bleakest. The theme of disconnectedness is at work here just like in the others, but there seems to be a darker, more active role played by society itself to push these people away. Granted, the brothers and their friend don't appear to be go-getter type guys with strong work ethics, but there's definitely the feeling that it's because it's been beaten out of them - why try if you won't even be given the chance? They quickly fall into roles as drug dealers (hocking bottles of toluene for sniffing) and meet Anita - a prostitute from China who, after initially stealing all their money, joins them in their pursuit of a way out. Anita's situation is also extraordinarily grim. Her pimp doesn't even treat her on the same level as an animal, she gets slapped around and has to endure awful encounters with certain clients. Miike flashes some of his stylistic tricks (he seems to have found a few more since the trilogy's previous film) during one particularly sick session with a businessman. Anita gravitates towards these "half-breed" guys because they seem to be the only ones who can make her laugh or show her any kindness at all. One of the strongest parts of the film is that these characters feel much more fleshed out than the two previous films and so they manage to earn our sympathies to a greater degree.

It's a grimy world they exist in - everything is dirty, falling apart or half constructed. There's stairways with no walls, rubble in the streets and rotten people out only to please themselves. "Proper" Japanese society ignores this world. In one particular scene where one of the characters has been shot, he lies bleeding on the sidewalk with his friends around him while the traffic on the road simply flows on by. No one slows down to look or even speeds up to avoid them. It's as if they don't even exist. It's a strong statement from Miike and taken together with the rest of the trilogy, a pretty bleak and black view.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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