Among the plethora of films Miike shot on video, he was bound to include a noir (kind of at least) eventually. “Peanuts” was free of Maki’s presence, something that gave the movie a sense of style to say the least, although the writing by the three people responsible (Jiro Asada, Tetsuo Inoue and Masahide Motohashi) was, once more, messy.
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The two peanuts of the story (from the phrase “two peanuts in the same shell) are Ryuji Hoshikawa and Kyotaro Ochiai, two peculiar individuals who dress like detectives from a noir story (costumes and hats and all) but are actually just lowlifes, and not particularly bright. As the story begins, they win a great sum in the track, but are soon swindled for all they worth, first by a supposed car dealer and then from two good looking women. A little after that, they stumble upon Makimura, and elderly fish seller who has a huge debt towards the local, Hyakkikai gang, and cannot repay it, to the point that they have kidnapped his daughter in order to make him pay. The two decide to rob the gang and give the money to Makimura. Their abilities in fighting soon draw the interest of Fukuda, a debt collector who hires them to collect money from Sugiyama, a businessman who also deals with drugs and actually employs Makimura’s daughter. Eventually, Kyotaro falls for her and Ryuji for one of the two women swindlers, but when the yakuza realize all their shenanigans, they sent a legendary killer, Kyotaro the Annihilator, to hunt them down.
Actually, this is only part of the script, which also includes a number of other, intermingling arcs, which result in a number of coincidences that are absurd, as they are futile for the economy of the story. However, somewhere amidst all this mess, Miike manages to shoot a movie that may not thrive on context but definitely does on style. The way the protagonists dress and conduct themselves is the most obvious element in that regard, through an approach that lingers between the retro and the noir. The legendary killer concept, the many swindlers that appear in the film, the red Cadillac and the permeating drama (not very dramatic in essence, but its premises lean that way) also point towards the same approach. On the other hand, the many sex scenes (considering) and the violent sequences that appear quite frequently wink at exploitation, despite the fact that the tone remains light and somewhat comedic from beginning to end.
The low budget nature of the film is, once more, quite obvious, and is the biggest issue Miike had to face in order to present an appealing piece of work, along with the script of course. In that fashion, the image suffers from bad lighting, which makes most of the scenes look as if they occur inside fog, while the various action scenes lack realism, both in image and sound.
On the other hand, I found the acting quite good this time, with Koyo Maeda as Ryuji and Riki Takeuchi as Kyotaro looking cool all the time, despite their evident naivety, while their chemistry is one of the film’s best assets.
“Peanuts” includes all the issues the first years of Miike’s career suffered from, mostly deriving from lousy scripts and lack of funding, but I feel that among these productions, it is one of the best, particularly because some glimpses to his later style and overall prowess are evident in the movie.