3 out of 5
Directed by: Takashi Miike
This is a weird one. While watching the first part of Man in White, I debated whether to consider it separate from its ‘sequel,’ Requiem of the Lion, or together as a whole, given that the movie also exists in a cut with both films together, and was 99% assuredly shot together as well. I fell back on individual viewings / ratings, since Miike has done the one-movie-split-into-two bit before, and those have typically been considered as standalones; there’s sometimes some merit there, as those projects – generally early in the director’s career – can be significantly better in one half or the other.
Man in White is definitely one movie, though. The pluses and minuses felt in part one are here as well; my hope that some of the vaguer themes would shape up in this latter half didn’t come to fruition, unfortunately, though we do get clarity on Whats and Whys – yakuza man Azusa (Masaya Kato) is following leads up and up a rival gangs ladder to track down who gave the word to kill his boss – and some further visual signposting regarding those vague themes.
Some other conclusions can be drawn with the entire journey experienced: while Miike very often operates his shots in a style that’s integral to the feelings of the script and film, he sometimes is just in experimental mode as well, and that seemed to be more the case here. There are some stunning shots throughout, with the director pushing the in-your-face experience to the absolute fore and beyond, but there are an equal amount of shots where it just seemed like Miike wanted to see how much he could get away with with a single, hand-held camera. Also, while we touch on plenty of Miike themes (cycles of violence; children exposed to said violence), it almost feels like we’re watching Miike shoot a script written by someone purposefully including those themes; the movie other is an extended yakuza revenge flick. It doesn’t push its contemplations on destiny – whether we’re fated to be good or evil – in any really deep or unique fashion; Asuza and Serida (Tatsuya Fuji), the decked in white / decked in black sides of this conversation, repeat their same talk multiple times, and the ending “statement” on it seems like an oddly bleak, quippy point-of-view from the usually more open-ended Miike. The pairing of opposing hitmen isn’t new to Miike movies, but generally we get more of a sense of life fueling each character; in Man in White, Asuza and Serida share a past, but, again, it’s just a scripted past – a single scene we see in repeat.
This is all very critical, of course, which overlooks some of the subtle touches given Requiem of the Lion which do show attempts at giving the films a sense of progression: previous explosions of violence are now very much offscreen (though equally visceral), and our leads each forego their sunglasses when we get in to the endgame and things start to feel more personal. This last stretch of the movie is very strong, from an acting and shooting perspective, but I’m not sure that it required a film and a half worth of lead in; much of that is just Asuza tracking down a lead and killing whoever’s at the end of it after finding out the next link in the chain.
Something that’s perfect throughout: Koji Endo’s score. His weirdly soothing vocalization and guitar pluckings are expertly juxtaposed to a generally rather angry movie, constantly strengthening both linking scenes and action set pieces.
I was a little surprised to not have heard of Man in White before stumbling across it for purchase. Most Miike movies, if I haven’t seen them, I’ve at least read about at this point, and for a flick that came out right around the Gozu years, there’s not a lot of info on it. Given that it’s sort of a middleground viewing, despite its extra runtime, may account for that.
For those deciding on a single viewing or two, wondering if the lessened runtime of the single cut (150 minutes) excises anything necessary, a good chunk of Man in White 2’s opening is all just repeated footage from 1, so I’m sure the single cut is the way to go.