Blues Harp (1998)
Blues Harp is one of Takashi Miike's lesser known films... broadly another gangster movie, but (as usual) quite unlike any of his other gangster films. It tells the story of a young half-caste orphan named Chuji, who works in a bar, sells a little bit of speed on the street and sometimes plays blues on his harmonica. A chance encounter one night introduces Chuji to an ambitious young Yakuza called Kenji and a young girl called... err... Fukiko (perhaps), and the effects on his life of the relationships he forms with them form the basis of the movie.
I find it a little difficult to really evaluate Blues Harp from a first viewing, because it is a complex work that tells its story in a subtle, gentle handed way - nothing is presented to the viewer on a plate. As such, I suspect it would benefit greatly from more attention than I was able to give it tonight.
Miike's skills as a director are again evident here, with a loose but cleverly developed structure that builds up the story very gradually, pacing out the information at the lowest rate that can keep it coherent. We get a lot of incidental scenes, notably the performances of several live bands that play at Chuji's bar, which give the film a lot of its atmosphere. The dialogue is kept to a minimum - if Miike doesn't need to explicitly say something, he doesn't. Usually a facial expression or a particular camera shot tells us all we need to know.
There is plenty of Miike's characteristic style on display, with lots of really creative camera work and editing. In some ways and places his direction here is reminiscent of Wong Kar-Wai's. We get several scenes of montage set to music that are predict the opening to DEAD OR ALIVE (1999), though they not so manic or intense. The pace is very varied throughout, however, and there are many quiet, contemplative moments as well.
The viewer never gets close to the characters of BLUES HARP (at least, not on a first rather inattentive viewing) - Chuji especially is an alienated character who has defensive walls up around him that keep even the audience at bay. He doesn't yet know what his place in life is, and maybe doesn't have much of one.
I'm unsure what verdict to give to Blues Harp in the end, because I didn't enjoy it as much as I have most other Takashi Miike movies, but I think I may enjoy it more on repeat viewings. Certainly there's a lot of depth to the movie, and it's not one that can easily be dismissed. Recommended, but definitely not one I'd choose to introduce people to the Takashi Miike phenomenon.
How did I see it? Bootleg again I'm afraid - pretty poor quality transfer that suffers greatly from outrageous use of edge enhancement. Good subtitles though.