The Guys From Paradise (2000)
A Japanese businessman is arrested in the Phillipines for possession of heroin, and promptly delivered to a Filipino prison. Inside, he hooks up with the small Japanese community there, a bunch of colourful characters who stick together. He finds that the prison is rife with corruption, and that with money a person can do pretty much anything he wants - including leave, if he so desires. The leader of the Japanese group takes him under his wing, as he needs somebody who looks like a businessman to represent him in his many deals outside the prison. As time goes on, we learn more about the characters and the dynamics of the prison society, until an external influence brings disruption and forces the characters to go on the run.
I didn't enjoy the last two Takashi Miike movies I watched (Graveyard Of Honour (Miike) and Shinjuku Triad Society) all that much, and wondered if I was perhaps "Miike'd out". Well, if I was then it was only a brief phase, and I suspect it was actually that those were two of his weaker films. GUYS FROM PARADISE is a great film, and re-affirms my belief that Takashi Miike may be the planet's greatest living director.
The film is on the less extreme end of Miike's range, with none of the outrageous elements or extreme violence that shock and disturb or excite many viewers. It's a well crafted character-driven drama, though there are still quite a few moments that show Miike's unique touch (most notably the ending). This probably means that it will find less acclaim/notoriety than films such as Fudoh or Ichi The Killer, but it's another piece of evidence that shows there is a lot more to Miike than shock tactics. The film features really individual characters that are very well developed, a well crafted story and excellent direction that pulls the whole thing together beautifully. It's a fairly slow film, though there are moments of action and excitement to satisfy the impatient.
Miike loves to explore other cultures in his films, showing a world-awareness that isn't often found in Japanese cinema. When he takes his Japanese cast to the Phillipines it's in no way to belittle the Filipino people or culture, just to absorb some of it in the atmosphere of the film. The Japanese characters are no better or worse than the others, they're just the outsiders. Speaking of the cast, everybody does a great job with their characters - the acting throughout is top-notch.
In GUYS FROM PARADISE Miike's direction is pretty restrained, letting the story and characters take front stage rather than his own techniques, but he still manages to create a film that feels uniquely Miike-like. The closest films to it are probably Rainy Dog, Blues Harp and perhaps Bird People Of China (all Miike films, of course). Those that only know Miike from his splatter-fests may be surprised at how mature this film is, but anybody that's experienced a broad range of his insanely prolific output will find further confirmation of his extraordinary film-making talent.