2 out of 5
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Coming very early into director Takashi Miike’s soon-to-be expansive film career, Shinjuku Outlaw is surprising in how clearly it hits on several of the director’s themes: the outsider; surrogate families; legacies of violence; the inescapable cycle of that violence… The faceless direction of some of his preceding flicks is suddenly taken over by a very confident, moody style, shooting what would be an entirely normal yakuza setup – Yomi Katsuichi assassinates a rival family’s boss, does the prison time, and is released to find that the entire hierarchy of the families has changed – with a subversively (for the genre) stoic approach: lots of blues, lots of silence. Unfortunately, coming very early into his career also means that Miike was still subject to bowing to the whims of V-Cinema, and Shinjuku Outlaw switches, at about its midpoint, into completely generic exploitation, with a sex scene that feels contrary to Yomi’s ‘all business’ personality, a horrifically dreadful extended sequence of violence against a woman, and rather uninspired shoot-outs as Yomi, who’s been put in the middle of a war with an up-and-coming Taiwanese yakuza family, lashes out against everyone. The movie becomes, unfortunately, rather unpleasant at this point, and the uniqueness of its style and themes gets lost behind point-and-shoot camerawork and generic wipe transitions. There are some final moments of inspiration – some black humor in a penultimate shootout; a call forward to DOA-type ridiculousness in its last scene – but it’s a bit of too-late-too-late, unfortunately.
That said, the first half is entirely worth a watch for Miike fans. Genre fans will likely find it passable, but maybe put off by the slow lead-in to the sex and violence they expect.