Starting off his career in the B-Movie, genre-based V-Cinema industry in Japan, Takashi Miike’s career has grown and grown since his brand of filmmaking gained him global notoriety; his films now -rightly or wrongly – are some of the most anticipated Japanese films globally. But “Shinjuku Triad Society” – his lucky thirteenth directing credit in his hundred-plus career – is not just the starting point of his “Black Society” trilogy, but also the start of his career as a director being viewed more seriously.
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Kiriya (Kippei Shiina) is a Taiwanese-Japanese detective: something which sees him as something of a lone wolf with few kindred spirits. Investigating the Triads of Shinjuku, his younger brother Yoshihito (Shinsuke Izutsu), a lawyer, begins to become involved with those he pursues. His investigations, therefore, become much more personal into the dealings and life of the mysterious Triad boss Wang (regular odd-ball Tomoro Taguchi).
Travelling to Taiwan, Kiriya, against his boss’ wishes, takes an interest in Wang’s investment in a village hospital, discovering an organ smuggling business, in which Yoshihito is now part. Rarely playing by the book, Kiriya takes matters into his own hands, soon finding himself one of Wang’s potential organ “donors.”
“Shinjuku Triad Society” was Miike’s first film made intentionally for theatrical release, instead of just the latest in his line of V-Cinema outputs. Clearly, the work he had put out was deemed acceptable enough to get a wider, theatrical release by distributors in Japan, and thus becoming a step-up in Miike’s career.
But, as only his first step, there are still some genre staples throughout: frequent, over-the-top violence; humorously unnecessary sex scenes; a colourful make-up department; bad drugs in bad clubs; and plot points that aim to sink low.
The characters are all larger-than-life; escapist rather than realist. Kiriya is a man hoping to protect his brother, yet violently attacks him almost every time they meet, with a habit of torturing and raping his suspects; gangster moll, Ritsuko (Eri Yu) is beaten and raped by Kiriya, yet looks out for him due to her liking of his penis. All featured require a certain sense of imagination; the case with many Miike characters over the years.
But there is enough on display here from Miike to suggest that he was better than his filmmaking roots. Kiriya is haunted by the image of a crying young boy he sees while in Taiwan, making him recall his own troubled childhood as a foreigner in both Taiwan and Japan. Wang is also tormented by murdering his father, though his “father’s blood on his hands” is perhaps too literally depicted.
The theme of minorities in Japan is one that Miike would often tackle in the latter half of the 90’s, though with more subtlety and craft. “Shinjuku Triad Society” is the first, but worst of the “Black Society” trilogy, but seta the tone for the next few years of Miike’s career when he was at his most prolific and best: exploration of minority groups and the seedy maze of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, with a familiar cast, and perhaps some of the familiar genre staples of V-Cinema coming along with it.
While these are areas Miike had touched on before in his V-Cinema work – and he has perhaps never fully moved away from some of his V-Cinema roots-this was the first time they had been intended for theaters and a wider audience had taken notice.