Posts Tagged ‘Crime’


1986 Gyunggi Province. The body of a young woman is found brutally raped and murdered. Two months later, a series of rapes and murders commences under similar circumstances. And in a country that had never known such crimes, the dark whispers about a serial murderer grow louder. A special task force is set up in the area, with two local detectives Park Doo-Man and Jo Young-Goo joined by a detective from Seoul who requested to be assigned to the case, Seo Tae-Yoon. Park personifies the policeman who goes with his instincts and his fists, bloodily challenging every small-time crook in the area to confess. In contrast, Seo pores over evidentiary documents related to the case and inevitably the clash of styles leads to tense rivalry. From the fact that not a single hair is ever found at the scene, Park takes off to search the area’s temples and public baths for men with pubic hair disease, while Seo finds a pattern in the evidence of women wearing red on a rainy day as the victim’s profile. On a rainy day, the detectives set up a trap in order to forestall another murder. The next day however, yet another woman is found murdered. The solution to the murders grows fainter and drives the detectives to ever greater despair.

I will go on record here to say this is probably the finest Korean movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece. Powerful, gutwrenching, even humorous at times with a taut script, this movie about South Korea’s first ever serial killer is one that nobody will ever forget after watching it. It’s also based on a true story in which 3000 suspects were questioned and 1.8 million cops were involved according to the prologue. Despite the police’s best efforts, the killer was never found and is still at large in South Korea. It seemed the killer was calculated, meticulous and always one step ahead of the police in everything he did. The story begins in 1986 with the discovery of a woman’s body with her hands tied in a drainage culvert, this sets off a chain of events in which more victims turn up. Each victim has been strangled by their own stockings. The two local detectives on the case including their chief are clearly seen to be completely out of their depth. They also don’t seem to have a clue as to how to keep a crime scene clean until the forensic team arrive with kids and even tractors trampling over vital evidence. Enter Detective Seo Tae-Yun from Seoul who provides a different approach to the case. Instead of using brutality to coerce a confession out of suspects, he uses a more rational way of trying to find the killer. It’s inevitable that he and the local detectives clash. But even with Seo Tae-Yun on board with some clues being found, it becomes apparent that the police force is becoming desperate to nail this sadistic killer. Pinning their hopes on a man with smooth hands after a confession from a female victim who wasn’t killed and the fact that he sent a request for a song ‘Sad Letter’ to be played on the radio on every night a woman is killed, the 3 detectives begin to investigate him. With some evidence sent to the US for verification because South Korea didn’t have DNA testing at the time, they hope that it will prove without a shadow of a doubt that this is their man.

memories-of-murder screenshot

The story is so engrossing and compelling. It sucks you right into the investigation and you definitely feel the frustration of the detectives building up as more bodies turn up. It might not have the Hollywood theatrics of Se7en or The Silence Of The Lambs but don’t believe for a second that this movie is inferior to them in any way shape or form. The movie also gives a good history lesson about the state of South Korea during the mid 80’s when it was still under a military dictatorship with martial law being declared at night with an air-raid siren going off, social unrest happening on the streets and schools participating in an emergency rehearsal in case of an attack by the North. Director Bong Joon-ho has crafted a fantastic suspensful thriller with beautiful haunting cinematography and an amazing soundtrackwhich keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the 2 hours or so running time. If I had to pick out highlights from the movie it would come down to the fantastic chase scene during the night and a brilliant free-for-all brawl at a restaurant as tensions boil over from one of the detectives who has been suspended due to overuse of violence on a suspect. Don’t expect to find a happy ending to the story though there is an intriguing final scene at the location of the first murder.

The acting from Song Kang-ho, Kim Roe-ha and Kim Sang-kyung as the detectives on the case is excellent and it’s sad to see them fail in their task to being the killer to task despite giving their all to the case day after day. It’s interesting to see how the relationship between the 2 country detectives and the city detective develop as the story progresses. Initially there is a rivalry between them due to their differing styles of investigating – the country pair are either lazy or plain stupid as they blatantly frame suspects and play the good cop/bad cop routine in order to get a confession but all three men become bound together by frustration as each clue they find brings them no closer to catching the real suspect.

Memories Of Murder is an unmissable movie. It’s an exceptional movie in all aspects and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Hard Romanticker

Gu is a hard-nosed Korean-Japanese hoodlum living in Shimonoseki, Japan. When friends “accidentally” kill the grandmother of a ruthless North Korean-Japanese thug, a whirlwind of violence and revenge is set to explode. In the process, Gu, having no fear, pisses off a string of other criminal gang members and Korean-Japanese thugs who all want him dead. There’s also Detective Fujita lingering in the shadows looking for Gu, but where is he? To escape from it all Gu lucks his way into a managerial job in another city for a hostess club, run by a suave man named Takagi. Instincts tells Gu that Takagi is more than he seems. In fact, Takagi works for a rival gang and may be involved with drugs. Gu’s grandmother drops by to inform him that his best friend has been killed. This persuades Gu to return to Shimonoseki to settle the score. All hell is about to break loose.

This movie takes a very violent look at the criminal underworld involving the Zainichi (Korean-Japanese). Those who enjoyed the “Crows Zero” movies which involved a lot of male testosterone gang violence will want to take a look at this movie though unlike those movies this one doesn’t have any sympathetic characters (apart from Gu’s grandmother) portrayed in it at all. The story is based on the experiences of the director Gu Su Yeon when he was younger. It is set in Shimonoseki, a city where there is a high percentage of ethnic Koreans live in Japan. Koreans living in Japan aren’t looked at favourably by the Japanese people and to say that life isn’t easy for them is quite an understatement. The plot focuses on a cocky and charismatic young man who’s quite an unpleasant and vicious character (same goes for the majority of characters in this movie). He goes around upsetting nearly everybody with his devil may care attitude which naturally makes him a lot of enemies. He’s not averse to even beating up his superiors with a motorcycle helmet when two of them attempt to rape a young woman in their apartment. That might make him seen like a champion of women of sort to some viewers but later we see again just what a nasty piece of work he really is. Gu is seen trying to date a high school girl named Mieko Nakamura who catches his eye but when he finds out that she has been having sex with his friend his payback is brutally raping her in a park. The treatment of women in this movie is rather appalling and they are seen as merely sex objects to be treated badly by the men. It’s only a matter of time before Gu is going to be subjected to his own brand of medicine so when he picks on North Korean gang leader Park and his 3 cronies in a cafe with a metal bar who he thinks has murdered his close friend, the beating Gu receives is more than deserved. If it’s spectacular street violence you want and see, it’s got it in droves here with a lot of people being beaten up, murdered and even stabbed. The fights are choreographed well and even looks real. Even with all the violence going on in this movie there is some dark humour peppered throughout and a cool funky jazz soundtrack. Movie fans who are familiar with Japanese 70’s crime movies such as the Battles Without Honor series will see that this one has got that feel to it. I’m not sure if this was the director’s own way of paying tribute to those kind of movies?

Hard Romanticker screenshot

Shota Matsuda who is best known in the past couple of years from the drama Liar Game gives a terrific performance as the badboy Gu. He plays a character so different from Akiyama here. Matsuda has some Korean blood from his late father’s side who was half-Korean and acted in some violent movies during the 70’s so I’m sure he watched a couple of his father’s work to draw inspiration for his own role. The character of Gu is quite amusing in the way he swaggers around town like he owns the place, slapping some of the other thugs across the head and just doing whatever he wants whenever he wants regardless of the consequences he might face in the future.

Due to the violence on display and the harsh treatment the women receive, Hard Romanticker certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you like these kind of fast paced rough and tumble movies you should find it very enjoyable.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Fly With The Gold (2012)

fly with the gold new

Koda is a supplier for radical extremists and criminals who’s approached by an old university friend Kitagawa with a plan to steal 1.5 billion yen in gold bars from a vault under the main branch of Sumida Bank. Kitagawa puts together a team which consists of a banking system engineer named Noda, a North Korean spy Momo who is posing as an engineering exchange student, Kitagawa’s younger brother Haruki and a former elevator technician called Jiichan. After some careful planning, the six men carry out their audacious task but will they able to pull it off?

When I first read the plot summary for this movie I was expecting to see an Ocean’s 11 type of caper but what I saw was nothing of the sort. This is a gripping heist movie set in Osaka which has some exciting action sequences and a suspensful climax as the bank job naturally goes wrong. The first half of the movie sets about introducing us to the characters with a lot of the focus on Momo, the deadly North Korean spy who when he is not posing as a student is working at a food stall. Kitagawa has been keeping tabs on his apartment by spying on him through binoculars. He suspects that he is not all that he seems to be. Kitagawa’s hunches come true when one night after Momo has returned to his apartment, his enemies armed with guns come looking for him. Kitagawa along with Koda rush headlong to help Momo out and the three manage to escape but the consequences of helping the young North Korean out will come back to haunt Kitagawa later in the movie. Once the team has been assembled they set about carefully poring through the floor plans to the bank they’ve managed to get hold of and how they think they’re going to successfully steal the gold bars. There’s a major problem before they even manage to set the ball rolling as Momo’s enemies track him down. Even Kitagawa’s family isn’t spared by them as his pregnant wife and child are victims of a hit and run incident in a busy shopping street. It doesn’t distract Kitagawa to cancel the heist though. Tensions start to emerge between the team as Noda starts to become nervous. The plan is for Kitagawa, Koda and Jiichan to pose as elevator technicians and say to the bank security guards there’s a problem with one of the elevators whilst a series of explosions underground in another part of the city which will simultaneously go off with a bomb below the bank will distract the police long enough for the criminals to get inside the bank vault, steal the gold, make their way to the roof of the bank, haul the gold down by rope to the waiting getaway van below driven by Noda before they themselves use the rope to clamber down the side of the building and drive away. The best laid plans usually never come off smoothly and this is what happens for the gang.

Fly with the gold screenshot

There’s a strong cast for the movie which includes the main role for Tadanobu Asano along with Satoshi Tsumabaki. Normally young female Japanese adults wouldn’t give a second look at this type of movie but with the addition of Korean idol Changmin from the duo TVXQ as Momo and another young hearthrob in Junpei Mizobata I saw quite a few women in the audience in the cinema the day I went to Shibuya to see it. It’s more of a movie for men than anybody else but the moviemakers saw some sense and perhaps knew that if they added some young attractive men it would appeal to the ladies and bolster the takings for the movie as well.

I enjoyed the movie even though it does take some time for it to get going. It’s probably only around half way through the movie that the main plot of planning the bank job gets under way. I also think a good 30 mins should have been cut to quicken the pace of the plot. It’s a solid enough movie with enough thrills and spills to keep your interest and whilst it doesn’t contain the fun element that made the Oceans trilogy so popular it’s a worthy watch for Asian movie fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Into The White Night (2011)

A pawn shop owner in Osaka is murdered, but due to a lack of conclusive evidence the police lists the man’s death as a suicide. Detective Sasagaki, who investigated the case, can’t forget the dark eyes of the main suspect’s daughter Yukiho and the pawn shop owner’s son Ryouji. As time goes by, more mysterious deaths surround Yukiho & Ryouji. Detective Sasagaki still unable to let go of the pawn shop owner case discovers startling details about Yukiho and Ryouji …

This is a slow-burning mystery which centres on the death of a pawn shop owner back in the 80’s and how one police detective will not let go of the case even for nearly 20 years until he has solved it even after his retirement from the force. The story must be popular as 3 adaptations have been made in the last 6 years. First as a drama in 2006 then as a 2009 Korean movie before this one came along. It’s a detective story with a difference and quite a hard-hitting emotional journey into the darkest recess of humanity in which 2 people have to live with an event that happened whilst they were kids and the repercussions that follow. The movie takes it’s time to unravel itself and whilst 2 and a half hours for some people is rather long I never found the story boring and each new clue to the murder keeps your attention. Some of the subject matter of the movie is disturbing and involves child sex abuse. Considering the UK has been shocked in the past 2 months by the allegations that a popular dead TV celebrity regularly abused children for nearly 40 years, some scenes may prove hard to watch for some British viewers. I know I found them difficult and it makes you wonder how some adults can do such things to children. The final third of the movie brings all the loose ends we have been introduced over the course of the movie together and neatly ties them up to give a satisfying conclusion.

The two leads in the movie are excellent. Maki Horikita is usually associated with roles that cast her with a pure image but in this one she plays Yukiko Karasawa – an intimidating, scheming and manipulative character who will trample over anybody to get what she wants. She uses her charm and beauty to her advantage. It was great to see her in something like this and which shows a different side to her acting. Equally as good is Kengo Nora as the brooding Ryouji Kirihara. We get to learn how these 2 lost souls with a lot of pain inside them found comfort with each other when they were children at school and whose lives are bound together by a murder. The story follows them through to adulthood where they are still living with the trauma of what happened all that time ago. Plunged into the centre of this story is Detective Sasagaki who has been keeping tabs on the two since the murder took place but needs proof of who committed the crime. He sort of knows who did it but without conclusive evidence he can’t prove anything. Sasagaki is played with a dogged determination by Eiichiro Funakoshi.

Director Yoshihiro Fukagawa manages to weave a very dark, depressing and compelling storyline which is complemented nicely by the brilliant acting of Maki Horikita, Kengo Nora and Eiichiri Funakoshi. Well worth watching if you can stand the long running time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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It’s the year leading up to the Tokyo Olympics and the yakuza gangs jostling for supremacy in Hiroshima who have been fighting amongst each other shows no sign of abating. The public though have had enough of the violence and bloodshed on their streets and pressure the police to crackdown on the yakuza gangs. The leader of the Hirono gang Shozo continues to harbour a grudge against his old boss Yamamori and he has bought in reinforcements in order to try and kill him once and for all. Other elder yakuza leaders wants a peaceful solution to end all the aggro but the younger members eager for a war on the streets makes the situation worse with tit-for-tat murders taking place. Eventually an all out war starts between the gangs but the police are ready and start arresting all the leaders. Will this lead to peace on the streets of Hiroshima?

The 4th in the Battles Without Honor and Humanity saga brings about a conclusion of sorts to the Hiroshima yakuza gangs story which the previous 3 movies have been chronicling during an 18 year period. There is an air of change in the plot for this movie. The police haven’t had much of a presence before, only glimpses of them have been shown. In this movie, they have more of a presence and thanks to massive pressure from the public who wants them to smash the yakuza rings they unleash the full force of the law as they begin to dismantle the gangs. Naturally the leaders in charge think they are above the law and send out their underlings to do their dirty deeds even if it means they’ll be arrested. As long as they remain in their comfortable position at the top of the chain it doesn’t matter. Shozo Hirono though is different from the rest and insists on carrying out his own business. His men though insist on taking care of his problems in order to protect him. Hirono probably seems to be the only boss who still tries to live by the old yakuza code of honour. The other leaders such as Yamamori are seen to be weak and whiny, avoiding decisions but are the first to take credit from others. As with the theme from the previous movies – short alliances are swiftly broken, double crossings happen and blood continues to be shed.

Director Kinji Fukusaku gives us a fast paced story with plenty of street fights with guns, knives and political maneouvering between the various gangs. He carries on with the style associated so far with the saga – freeze frames with the deaths of important gang members and a voice over explaining a situation that’s going on. As there’s so many characters in the storyline, some of the more interesting ones get lost in the shuffle and only get some brief screentime. There’s certainly more violence involved in this story and I’d say this is the bloodiest movie in the franchise. Examples of this include a man getting his nose cut off by a knife, a gang member stabbed in his hand and other nasty incidents such as a rifle being used as a bayonet to kill a man. As the violence escalates, the main protaganist Hirono is taken out of the equation and arrested by the police for a minor offence. By the time the movie comes to it’s conclusion, the days of the yakuza gangs running wild and free in Hiroshima has come to an end and the final voice over brings us the total number of deaths, wounded and arrests that have taken place over the years.

This is another worthy entry in the Battles Without Honor franchise and I’m eager to watch the last episode. Hirono and the other leaders maybe in jail by the climax of this movie but you can bet that their story isn’t over yet.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Chuji is a young Okinawan man who works behind the bar at a live lounge club but also deals in drugs for a gang. He is a gifted harmonica player but only plays in his own private time. One day Chuji helps an ambitious yakuza member named Kenji who’s being chased by some people and also bumps into a bubbly woman Tokiko who becomes his girlfriend. Chuji is encouraged by one of the owners of the bar who leads a band and his girlfriend to perform on stage. After just one performance with the band, Chuji is a big hit and soon a record producer is knocking on his door willing to sign him up. Meanwhile Kenji rewards Chuji for the help he had by giving him some money. They soon become friends despite their loyalties to opposite gangs but what Chuji doesn’t know is that Kenji has more than friendly feelings towards him. Chuji can’t believe his luck when Tokiko announces that she’s pregnant with his child. It seems his life is on the up and he can perhaps soon give up his drug dealing ways. But Kenji’s close friend in the yakuza who harbours feelings for him and is aware of Kenji’s love for Chuji strikes a deal with a rival gang that unwillingly puts Chuji right in the middle of a yakuza battle that goes way over his head with tragic results.

It doesn’t matter how many movies I see from Takashi Miike, all of them apart from Ninja Kids which I didn’t like have been so enjoyable and Blues Harp isn’t any different. It’s an amazing movie. The story is about a man trying to move on from his troubled youth as he didn’t have much of a life growing up on Okinawa. His mother was a prostitute so he was left out on the streets for most of the time. Years later and working in Tokyo behind a bar, he expresses himself through music in playing the harmonica. He may be a part-time drug dealer but he’s always hoping that one day he can stop doing that. Even though you wouldn’t normally associate blues music with Japan or it’s culture, this uniqueness to the storyline only adds to the greatness of the movie. The other half of the story involves a yakuza man who hatches a plan to be the top man in his group by killing his boss. Chuji and Kenji’s fateful first encounter when Chuji discovers Kenji lying on the floor outside his bar in an alley as he’s being chased by a rival gang sets up a chain of events that ends in tragedy for the two men. This could have been a gritty yakuza movie but it’s not and instead we have a compelling character driven storyline with an emotional depth to it which is perfectly paced by Miike. He adds a sweet and simple love story to the proceedings and in the character of Tokiko who’s an overtly bubbly sort of person, she’s provides a great foil to Chuji. They are completely opposite in personalities to each other but somehow they have a connection and their relationship works. The movie has 2 memorable leading characters with the actors in their roles giving it everything. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi stands out more as Chuji and he’s a character you grow to care for. When you see Chuji take to the stage in the bar and wow the audience with his harmonica it’s enough to get you tapping your toes. The movie is peppered with a couple of scenes that shows off some great blues numbers and they’re a treat to listen to. Although not as outrageous and shocking as some of Miike’s other movies, it still has some flashes of gore and violence to jolt you.

Blues Harp is an excellent movie with two plotlines that link together and combine seamlessly to make for an unforgettable experience. Another winner for me from the maverick director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Togawa is a man sprung from jail 2 years earlier than expected by a man called Ito. Ito along with a yakuza boss has paid big money to have Togawa released from prison (he was serving a sentence for killing a trucker who had crippled his young sister). Ito wants Togawa to lead a team of 4 men to rob an armoured car which is carrying 120 million yen in money earnings from the Japanese Derby horse race. Togawa has been chosen for his reputation and skills. Even with the big pay off Ito is offering him he hesitates but he soon accepts when he finds out his trusted friend Shirai is a part of the team. The other 2 members is a boxer who was going to be a champion until he took a bung for a fight and a greedy gambler. The plan for the heist looks to be foolproof on paper and it all has to be done in 7 mins. But of course the best laid plans never go according to what they should be………..

This is a hard edged heist movie with all the standard elements in place here from a criminal asked to do one last job, the audacious plan to commit the perfect crime against a difficult target, the heist which goes wrong, the subsequent falling out between the team and the moral at the end that crime doesn’t pay. It’s a taut and thrilling movie thanks to a good plot, fast pace and the leading character played by chipmunk faced Jo Shishido. He plays Togawa with his usual aura of looking cool, some grittiness and machismo. The draw of the movie isn’t about the heist itself but of how it’ll inevitably go wrong. You can sympathise with Togawa in why he’s taking part in the heist. He might want to go straight but he feels responsible for the accident that hospitalised his sister. The money from the heist would go a long way to pay for an operation that could make her walk again. When Togawa explains the plan to his fellow cohorts, the viewer is shown what should happen in real time and it’s obvious that there are unforeseen circumstances that could easily derail the plan. In the duration of 7 short minutes the criminals have to divert the armoured truck down an alternative route, block that route so that other traffic doesn’t follow, shoot the motorcycle police escorts dead, hope the guards inside the truck come out so that they get killed as well as the truck’s glass is bullet proof and then finally load the truck onto a bigger truck before it is disposed of in a quiet location with all the bodies inside. Even when the heist doesn’t go according to plan, Togawa never expects to be betrayed by his employers and two of his team members who become greedy. Togawa is a man who believes in the futile notion of honor among thieves so this betrayal is very unexpected. It then becomes a battle of survival as he and his friend Shirai get involved in a number of gunfight skirmishes and try to escape with the money. It ends in something that could almost be described as a Greek tragedy.

This is an excellent example of a Japanese noir movie with brilliant acting by Jo Shishido and loads of exciting violent action. It’s directed well, the story is interesting and it looks great.

Cruel Gun Story might not be a classic movie in the Japanese noir genre but it has plenty of thrills and spills to keep any viewer entertained. Well worth seeing.

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Triple Cross (1992)

Three ageing thieves team up with a blond haired young punk in an attempt to steal 200 million yen in hotel takings from an armoured car in Hokkaido, only to find that their plunder is actually an underwhelming 50 million. The young punk betrays his associates as he kills one of them, seriously injures another and steals the cash all for himself whilst going on the run with the young wife of one of the thieves. The one remaining thief left standing swears revenge and relentlessly pursues the young punk.

During the early 90’s, many old stagers that were directing Japanese movies in the 60’s and 70’s were being left behind as new and exciting directors were coming through and showcasing their stylish movies. In the case of Kinji Fukasaku, he wasn’t prepared to just let this happen and retire gracefully. He was in his 60’s when he directed The Triple Cross and his intention was to show Japanese cinema audiences that despite his advancing years he could still make a great action movie and put the new boys to shame. This movie hits the ground running immediately from the start and hardly lets up throughout – there are plenty of violent shootouts and cool car chases. It boasts terrific performances from the 4 main leads which includes Sonny Chiba but it’s Kenichi Hagiwara as Kanzaki that takes the majority of the screen time and it’s this character we follow on his revenge mission. Unfortunately there’s a female character named Mai in this movie who just acts so hyperactive and loud that she really gets on your nerves and is so annoying. I was hoping that she would get bumped off quickly but she survives until the very end. There is one scene which she slightly redeems herself and that sees her grab a machine gun and spray bullets galore on some police cars. The Japanese police force are made to look very foolish – they can’t seem to catch two people in one car no matter how many patrol cars they’ve got chasing them or even blocking their way. So many police cars gets trashed in one way or the other throughout the story including Kanzaki in his 4×4 bulldozing over the top of several cars as he tries to escape from being arrested at the climax.

If Kinji Fukasaku wanted to prove to people that he could hold his own with the new breed of Japanese directors, he did it perfectly with this wild and crazy action movie. The story might not be original as we’ve seen plenty of heist-gone-wrong plots in the past but the sheer energy, fast pace and look of this movie should satisfy the majority of Asian action junkies. Recommended.

No trailer but here’s a small clip:

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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In the 2nd of the Battles Without Honor movie series it is 1950 and Shozo Hirono is in prison after the events of the first movie. Here he meets Shoji Yamanaka, an angry young man who has been thrown in prison for assaulting a group of people in a gambling den. Yamanaka manages to get parole after 2 years but soon crosses the path of crazed yakuza Katsutoshi Otomo. He and his gang of hoodlums beats him up and Yamanaka swears revenge. His actions soon bring him to the attention of the head of the Muraoka family and he accepts their invitation to join their ranks. However he is soon making a mistake of falling in love with his Muraoka’s niece Yasuko. Punished for doing this as her former husband was a WWII hero, he given a chance of redemption in killing a construction company boss. Katsutoshi Otomo gets even more power hungry and plans to wipe out the Muraoka family with his own little gang. A gang war breaks out on the streets of Hiroshima but which side will come out on top?

It’s been a while since I last watched one of the Battles Without Honor movies, last October in fact when I saw the 3rd in the series Proxy War so there was always a chance I’d come back and see the 2nd movie. This movie instead of focusing on the “hero” of the 1st movie Shozo Hirono we follow a new character Shoji Yamanaka although Hirono does appear in many scenes but the character mostly takes a back seat in this instalment. He’s more of an observer than one who gets involved in a gang war. Director Kinji Fukasaku has refrained from just rehashing the plot from the first movie and has tweaked some things in order to make the storyline more interesting for the viewer. It still retains the freeze frame moment whenever a character is introduced or dies in the story. This is more of a tale of a young man who learns the hard way what it means to be a yakuza. Although revenge is Yamanaki’s driving force in the movie, he also wants the hand of Yasuko but it proves to be difficult and ends on a tragic note. This movie has still got the usual betrayals, violence, bloody shootouts etc that made the first movie so popular. The violence is brutal and unforgiving and thanks to the gritty cinematography of Sadaji Yoshida the viewer finds themselves at times slap bang in the middle of the fighting that goes on. Director Fukusaku manages to get across his point that all this violence is completely pointless.

There’s quite a strong cast for this movie from the fantastic Sonny Chiba as the psychotic nutjob yakuza Katsutoshi Omoto who wants to break away from his father’s empire. A man who loves to spread chaos and anarchy wherever he goes. I was surprised to see Meiko Kaji also involved in this movie. Don’t come into this movie expecting her to play one of her more familiar roles as a badass woman because her character is more meek and definitely less intense than what the majority of viewers are used to seeing her. Seizo Fukumoto gives a great performance as the brooding and impulsive Yamanaka and Bunta Sugawara is more restrained as Hirono this time round.

Deadly Fight In Hiroshima moves the overall storyarc of the series very well and having seen the 3rd movie, I guess it’s high time for me to take a look at the 4th movie very soon. The fast moving plot filled with thrills and sudden bursts of violence is well worth watching.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Concrete (2004)

aka Concrete Encased High School Girl

Osugi is a youth from a broken home. He lives with his mother who he doesn’t respect and he beats her up regularly. He drops out of school and works for a local construction firm. When a yakuza group turns up at the firm demanding money from the owner, one of the yakuza underlings Shimada recognises him from school and tells him there is money to be made by joining them. Osugi is courted by the yakuza and eventually joins up. Realising that he’s in too deep after a couple of days he tries to quit but is threatened that they will kill him if he does thus he continues with them as he knows if he tries to escape they’ll hunt him down. The boss asks Osugi to create a gang of youths to do his bidding in which they threaten and steal money from people. It is named the Ryujin Gang and has 4 principal members. Their base is in the bedroom of one of the members – in a house in a nice respectable neighbourhood. Aside from petty theft, they progress to cruising around in a car and kidnapping schoolgirls in order to rape them. One night they kidnap a young schoolgirl and take her to their HQ where she is tortured, repeatedly raped and beaten up. The parents of one of the gang members knows what’s going on upstairs in their own home but are too afraid to do anything. The schoolgirl tries to escape from her captors on many occassions but is recaptured every time. Her ordeal only ends with her tragic death. The gang try and get rid of her body by encasing it in concrete inside an oil drum and dumping it on some waste ground.

Let me tell you right off the bat that this movie will make you angry due to the fact that this movie is actually based on a real-life murder that shook Japan (a relatively crime-free country) to its core in early 1989. 16 year old Junko Furuta was subjected to what can only be described as a horrific experience during 44 days of captivity before her death. This is quite a harrowing and depressing movie and it gives a fairly accurate account though some facts have been omitted of what happened to the poor girl. Before we get to the kidnapping of the girl, the movie focuses on the leader of the Ryujin gang Osugi as we see him progress from becoming a budding yakuza member to raping schoolgirls before he set his sight on victimising a single young girl. It is shocking to read the true facts of what the 4 youths did to their victim – she was raped 400 times, foreign objects were inserted up her vagina, she was made to eat cockroaches and drink her own urine, used as a punching bag so her face was a mass of welts and bruises and lighter fluid poured on one of her legs which was set alight. And there was even more atrocities committed which thankfully isn’t shown in the movie. What is shown in this movie is enough to make you weep. The youths are seen to actually enjoy torturing the girl. How the parents of one of the gang members could live with themselves knowing this appalling catalogue of torture was taking place under their own roof and not even contacting the police is unbelievable and only adds to the outrage of this sickening crime. Although the movie serves to show that it was the yakuza’s influence on the boys that made them the way they were, it makes no excuses for what they did. God knows what unimaginable pain the girl went through and I really felt sorry for her. The director does a good job in explaining the background of how the crime took place. The acting by all of the young cast is very good.

What will make you even more angry is the failure of the Japanese courts in properly punishing these punks because they were all minors at the time. The leader Osugi who was the biggest scum of all in this heinous crime was let out of jail after only serving half his 17 year jail sentence in the late 90’s. The rest of his cohorts got off lightly too. They are still free and roaming around in Japan today. Who knows if they ever felt remorse for what they did. What kind of human being does this to an innocent person?

Be warned that this movie is graphic and it does not hold back on the sadistic violence inflicted on the victim. It’s not a nice movie at all and it’s so heartbreaking to watch.

There’s no trailer I can find but here’s a video about what happened to Junko Furuta.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Young and reckless cop Cheung and his CID partner Hoi stake out a band of thieves, when two traffic cops accidentally interfere and the situation escalates to a full blown shootout. The criminals led by Yuen escape in a hail of bullets followed by police officers. The chase takes them through the streets of Hong Kong, past a simple traffic accident where some news crews are filming. When the news crews see the pursuit, they follow, and everything after that is documented on live TV. The criminals shoot several police officers during their escape, and in one case an officer falls to his knees and begs for mercy. They eventually escape, and the Hong Kong police is humiliated on live TV. Naturally this won’t do. The chief of police demands immediate action! Enter Deputy Commander Rebecca Fong. She recognises the seriousness of the situation and suggests a new course of action: The police needs to get back at the criminals, and they need to do it in the public forum. When the criminals’ new hiding place is exposed by Cheung and his colleagues, Fong orders every available PTU officer to the scene, and alerts the media. The criminals are about to get their comeuppance… and a very public one at that.

From the enthralling opening scene of a dramatic shoot-out on a Hong Kong street during which a stake-out has gone horribly wrong, director Johnnie To instantly grabs our attention in this excellent movie. Despite a very simple plot idea of a criminal gang holed up in an apartment with hostages, it is never allowed to become just an action movie. Yes, there is plenty of gunplay and explosions but Johnnie To cleverly adds an intelligent parallel satire plot that has to do with the news media and how the government will manipulate the news to best meet their needs. Even so it seems the police are doing what they can to make themselves look good, the criminals aren’t beyond playing the game too and start uploading their own footage through the internet to the media to show that the police aren’t telling the whole truth. I did enjoy the cat and mouse aspect of the movie between the gang leader Yuen and the Police Inspector Rebecca Fong who are trying to outsmart each other. The movie moves along at a fast pace throughout it’s 90 min running time with the best sequence being that of the opening 7 minutes which was shot in one continuous take. It looks awesome thanks to the clever camera work on show. The script is well written and the story is different and innovative from other police/criminals dramas you might have seen.

The cast is rather good with Richie Ren rather menacing as the gang leader Yuen. Nick Cheung is also excellent as the determined cop Cheung who will not give up in his pursuit of the gang despite repeated instructions to back off from his superiors and finally we have the gorgeous Kelly Chen as the icy cool and calm Inspector Rebecca Fong. It’s just a shame that the great Simon Yam just has a cameo role near the beginning.

Breaking News is probably one of the best Johnnie To movies I’ve enjoyed. Filled with suspense and superb action scenes from the get-go, this is a solid and entertaining HK movie which is well worth checking out. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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A yakuza family starts to fall apart after its leader is killed. In a bid to consolidate his position in the vast Tenseikai syndicate, Kaito plans to absorb the rival Yokomizo and Shirane families by replacing their implacably opposed leaders with puppets who will be willing to merge the families and bring them into his control. Yet when Kaito sends assassins to murder the elderly Yokomizo, he does not reckon on Higuchi, an unruly gangleader who will never ally himself to his godfather’s killers – nor on Kenzaki,  a young maverick squadleader whose willingness to take extreme action is outweighed only by his absolute loyalty to Higuchi, and whose remaining followers will readily give up their own lives in his service. An all out war is on the cards between the various families.

For a Takashi Miike yakuza movie, this is quite a restrained piece of work by him as it does not contain the usual ultra violent content you normally associate with his yakuza classics. It’s also a long 2 and a half hour epic (there’s apparently a 200 min cut floating around as well) which takes it’s time to get going – slow and conventional this movie may be but it’s never boring. Is there such a thing as a boring Takashi Miike movie? The closest we come to see Miike’s insanity is at a nightclub where a yakuza member repeateadly sticks a microphone up a woman’s ass and funnily enough the character doing this is Miike himself who has a cameo role in his own movie. This was one of 4 movies he directed in 2001 and this is probably the weakest of them. That’s not to say that Agitator isn’t any good because I enjoyed it immensely. Miike sticks to what he knows best in his gangster movies – honour, loyalty, betrayal and power struggles in the yakuza families and because this is different from his other yakuza movies he concentrates more on the plot and character development rather than the ultra violence (even though we do get to see some violence in the movie). As we come to the climax, the usual yakuza theme of revenge and retribution rears it’s head. Agitator is a solid movie from Takashi Miike. It’s well made, it had me hooked, the storyline is interesting and engaging and the cast deliver fine performances especially Masaya Kato as the character of Kanzaki.

If you want to see Miike at his imaginative best then Agitator will not be for you but if you’re like myself and want to try and see all of his movies then you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good example of his diversity and range as a director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Nami is a woman who walks into the office of a small company one night that touts that it will “do anything” and asks its harried owner Tetsuro Muraki to give her a tour of Tokyo. After visiting numerous places, she checks into a top class hotel, hides a knife under her pillow, and dresses to kill in a red miniskirt. Previously, her yakuza lover stripped and raped her as his cohort watched. She’s enslaved by him financially and sexually. He will not release her so that she can get married so the only option left for Nami is to kill him. As she waits for him in the hotel room, she quietly plots her revenge. Unfortunately, he discovers her plan and ravages her again. While her erstwhile boyfriend is taking a post-rape shower, she takes knife in hand and stabs him to death. As Muraki had an appointment the next day at her hotel room, he turns up and finds she’s checked out but not before he sees the body in the shower! With panic setting in, Muraki grabs a suitcase from his place, stuffs the body inside and packs it with dry ice. He then impersonates a police detective to find some information on where Nami is living so that he can return the suitcase and it’s contents to her. Unfortunately for him, this journey will include a lot of pain for him as the yakuza boss’ brother bursts into the hotel room demanding to know where he and Nami is. As he knows absolutely nothing he gets a severe beating for his troubles. When he does find Nami, he leaves the body inside the suitcase in her apartment. He is therefore surprised when another call comes from her asking him to do another job – she wants him to bury the body. He refuses to do it. She tries to do it herself by digging a hole in some woods but hasn’t the strength to finish the job properly. When yet another call comes saying that Nami is being held by the yakuza boss’ brother at her apartment with him demanding that the truth behind his brother’s murder be explained, Muraki enters the Tokyo underworld to find a gun so that he can rescue her.

This is an interesting neo-noir crime thriller by director Takashi Ishii. Ishii delves into the seedier side of Tokyo with it’s sleazy characters and sadistic beatdowns in back-alleys. It’s a side of Tokyo you don’t see often enough in movies. The directing and cinematography is top notch especially the bleak dirty landscape of Tokyo’s underworld at night. It’s not a place you’d want to get lost if you were visiting the city! There’s a very cool dream sequence of a gun being slowly pushed inside Muraki’s head accompanied by some appropriate squishy sound effects. I’ve never seen anything like that before! Ishii always brings something new and unexpected to his movies. He may not be a hugely popular director to many Asian movie fans but I quite like his work.

Excellent acting by Naoto Takenaka as Muraki, a man who finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he gets implicated in a plot in which he didn’t really do anything wrong and has to endure several nasty beatings at the hands of the yakuza. The only thing he was guilty of was taking the job of accompanying Nami around town in the first place. There’s a good mix of characters in the movie from a man desperate to get his money back from the yakuza boss to Muraki’s transvestite gay friend. Takashi Ishii even gives a small tribute to Psycho when Nami stabs her lover in the shower. The make up effects is fantastic as we see close up shots of Muraki’s beaten up face. If you’re at all offended by nudity, some gore and rape scenes (though never explicit) then it would be best if you stayed away from this movie.

If you find yourself wanting to watch something a little bit different from the norm, give this little gem of a movie a whirl. It’s well worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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Gondo is a wealthy man who has risen through the ranks from being a humble shoe maker inside the National Shoe company to becoming an executive and share holder in the company. Having been on the shop floor, Gondo knows what it takes to make good quality shoes but his fellow executive wants to save money and make cheaper shoes instead that will fall apart quickly. He refuses to go along with their scheme to oust their boss and has a plan of his own to take over the company. To do this, Gondo has mortgaged everything in his possession including the fancy house that his family have on top of a hill. During this time, somebody kidnaps the son of Gondo’s chaffeur having made a mistake as the kidnapper really wanted Gondo’s son. A ransom is given as being 30 million yen to release the boy and the kidnapper wants Gondo to pay it quickly or the boy will be killed. But if he pays the ransom, Gondo’s plan to take over National Shoe will be in ruins. He would lose everything – his house and most likely his job. At first Gondo is reluctant to pay off the ransom. For his own son he would pay in a heartbeat but for a son of his worker he hesitates. A moral dilemma poses itself for Gondo – does he pay off the ransom or not? Will he do the honourable thing?

Possibly one of the most enthralling police thrillers to emerge from Japan and who else but Akira Kurosawa could weave us a gripping tale that keeps us glued to our seats for 2 hours and 25 mins. From the first scene to the ending, Kurosawa shows us exactly why he is a master of cinema. Most people associate him with great samurai dramas but he could do a contemporary thriller as good as any Western movie. The first part of the movie is dedicated solely to Gondo’s situation as he wrestles with his conscience as to what to do with the kidnapping. He doesn’t want to lose everything that he has worked so hard over the years to achieve if he pays the ransom but he cannot let a little boy be killed by the kidnapper. It culminates in a tense and exciting sequence onboard a bullet train. The second half deals with the police search for the kidnapper and his accomplices as they follow up every lead and clue in order to catch their suspects from using the kidnapped kid’s drawings of where he was taken to background sounds from the telephone calls made to Gondo by the kidnapper. It’s all very interesting and keeps us in suspense. The script is fantastic and the cinematography is outstanding. The pacing is perfect and quite quick. I loved the final scene between Gondo and the kidnapper who’s about to have the death sentence carried out on him. He tells Gondo his reasons for carrying out what he did with his chilling words “your house looked like heaven, high up there. That’s how I began to hate you”. The meaning of the movie’s title I would imagine is this – the “high” is obviously Gendo’s house and his wealthy position in society looking down on the “low” where the everyday common people live. It’s almost as if the kidnapper despised the idea that the wealthy Gendo and his house was almost like a castle lording it over the rest of the town.

Excellent acting from Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune as Gondo and Tatsuya Nakadai as the police detective Tokura. The rest of the ensemble cast (familiar faces from other Kurosawa movies) also do a sterling job in their roles.

A masterpiece on every level. A complex and fascinating crime thriller and whilst different to many of Kurosawa’s other movies, it certainly ranks up there as being one of his best. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Officer Takeda is an honest lowly beat policeman who, initially, refuses to engage in his colleagues’ abuse of their power.  Other policemen think nothing of pulling up underage girls, threatening to charge them with minor offences and asking for sexual favours from them in return for letting them go free. Takeda’s actions as a police officer soon gets him noticed by his superiors who have plans to mould him into one of their own and this they do by promoting him to the CID section. He soon finds out that corruption in the force goes right to the top of the organisation but as he has much to thank his boss Superintendant Saegusa, for his rise in the force, he quickly becomes involved in the dodgy dealings that goes on. He proves to be the perfect dog who obeys his master without question in taking bribes, protecting the Yakuza and assuming responsibility and flak for any corrupt cases so that his boss will escape scot-free. He accepts everything he is told to do even when he knows it is wrong and downright illegal. The control exerted over him stretches to his private life too so that what first appears as a balanced loving relationship with his pregnant wife soon fades into the background, and she becomes almost a part player. A renegade freelance journalist named Kusuma who has long been wanting to expose the police force as just another criminal group like the Yakuza tries to blackmail Takeda for money in order for him to keep quiet but is arrested and beaten up by the cops. Five years down the line and Kusuma has been biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity to lift the lid on the police force for the whole of Japan to hear. During the past 5 years Takeda has quickly become an efficient corrupt officer for his superior but his time is coming to an end when Superintendant Saegusa demands that he take the rap for a corrupt case and he has to go to jail. Will Takeda’s conscience make him confess in court to what is really going on inside the police and will Kusuma’s revelations hold any relevance without proper evidence?

A superb movie that will make you think long and hard about who is the genuine bad guys in society today – the criminals themselves or the police force such is the damning revelation made by director Gen Takahashi in this hard-hitting tale. It tackles head on the issue of police corruption in Japan. The biggest crooks in Japan is not the Yakuza, the drug dealers or the pimps on the street but the police itself. A secret world of violence, corruption and collusion which has built up inside the force. When Takahashi was asked why he had made this movie, his answer was short, blunt and to the point – “I hate the police”. A very powerful statement to make so why did he say such a thing? Takahashi himself experienced some nasty behaviour by the cops when he was young plus his friend – freelance investigative journalist Yu Terasawa did many years of brave research which are supposed to be shocking. Both men have gathered enough evidence over the years to support the claims made in the movie. Takahashi based this story on true-life events, court reports and victim testimony. The characters in his story may be fictional, but the events of the movie are actually based on real fact he said.

I bought this due to what was on the DVD box – BANNED IN JAPAN. This movie wasn’t really banned in Japan after all but due to the controversial subject manner, Japanese distributors were worried about reprisals from the police so it was left on the shelf for 5 years (the movie was completed in 2006) until finally in 2011 it was released. Even then, only a few Japanese cinemas screened it. It’s a good marketing ploy by Third Windows to make people want to buy this DVD. At over three hours long the movie might be hard for some people to sit through but I found myself glued to the screen as the events unfolded. It really is compelling stuff. Shun Sugata is excellent as Takeda and you cannot help but sympathise in his misguided behaviour which culminates in his downfall. Sugata’s intense performance is nothing short of brilliant and the last 5 minutes in which he addresses the camera telling us what’s really going on will leave you speechless.

Confessions Of A Dog is an epic and riveting tale told in an unforgettable manner. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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