Kamikaze Taxi (1994)
From the blurb on the box or the website where I ordered it from, I was mostly expecting KAMIKAZE TAXI to be little more than a festival of violent revenge - and I suppose the name of the film helped with that impression too. First indicator that there might be a little more than that was that it's from the director of BOUNCE KO GALS (Masato Harada), and the second was that it's nearly 3 hours long. The fact I now know that "Kamikaze" means something like "Wind Of God" perhaps shows that the film is a little more than a blood-fest. In fact it's a lot more, a film that spans genres and moods and philosophies and all sorts of things - quite a rare, meandering beast that calls to mind Shunji Iwai's Swallowtail Butterfly in its scope and capacity for surprise. I was also reminded at various points of Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine, Takashi Miike's DEAD OR ALIVE 2, Shohei Imamura's UNAGI and Shinji Aoyama's Eureka... tribute to the diversity and depth of the film (though the presence of actor Koji Yakushu is also a factor in the latter 2 references).
The film begins in a pseudo-documentary style, commenting on the presence in Japan of people of Japanese descent but with foreign upbringing, and how they are not looked upon as "true japanese" by many of those that presumably view themselves thus. It also makes references to Japan's less than noble involvement in World War II, and the fact that many in Japan are still in denial about it - including some of the politicians. It notes that these Japanese immigrants, politicians with a knack for denial and the numerous Yakuza in the country might not all cross each other's paths that often, but that this particular film revolves around a situation where they do.
Trying to explain the plot is probably counter-productive, but it has a bit of "take the money run", and when the running doesn't work out too well it has a bit of "kamikaze revenge mission" - but it's definitely not that straightforward. How many other films with those genre-staple premises would stop after some scenes and film interviews with the side-characters that took place in them, documentary style? (note that it's interviews with the characters, not the cast). The film makes a very strong effort to develop and explore its characters, even having them spend 20 minutes or so doing self-awareness exercises in a spa.
Oh, quite a few people *do* get shot up too I suppose :P
Like Shunji Iwai's SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY, I picked up the film not expecting much of anything, and was quite astounded by how much I actually got from watching it. I'm therefore somewhat reluctant to sing its praises too highly in case other people pick it up on my recommendation then don't enjoy it for expecting too much. I'm sure not everyone is going to like it - it's a very quirky, contemplative film whose chief virtue in my eyes is never being predictable in 169 minutes. It's *very* Japanese, and deals with many issues of Japanese culture that might not mean anything to people who aren't aware of them - so it's not one I'd pick to introduce anybody to Japanese cinema. But if you've seen and loved SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY, and at least 2 or 3 of the other films I mention above, you should definitely be planning to pick KAMIKAZE TAXI up soon.