Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy
It's hard to say what makes these a trilogy, as opposed to, say, any three randomly-selected Takashi Miike movies. True, they cover similar themes, but most of his work covers the sleazy underbelly of Japanese life. And chronologically, they're from a four-year period (1995-1999) during which timespan, Miike directed fourteen other features, according to the IMDB, so nor do they form an uninterrupted body of work. Unlike his Dead or Alive trilogy, there's not even the same lead actors, though some people do appear in more than one.
This isn't to deny their significance, particularly with regard to Shinjuku Triad Society, which was Miike's first theatrical film. An award from the Japanese Director's Guild also helped lift him from his origins as a director of straight-to-video films [Not that this has quite the same stigma in Japan] towards his current reputation as a maverick auteur; Shinjuku perhaps marks the birth (or, at least, the post-birth heavy drinking session, down your local pub) of the mad excess for which he has become renowned.
If there's anything that links the films, it's that the protagonists are all 'fish out of water'. Shinjuku has Taiwanese gangsters and a half-Chinese cop in Japan, Rainy Dog has an outcast Yakuza in Taiwan, while Ley Lines has three mixed-race country boys heading to Tokyo. Another common feature is that Miike seems to have absolutely no interest in portraying the fairer sex at all. The trilogy has a total of two female characters of any significance - both are skanky whores. However, the men aren't exactly sympathetically portrayed either, and anyone watching Miike films expecting a feel good flick, needs their expectations sharply adjusted.
At the end of this month, Artsmagic release the trilogy, both individually and as a box-set. Not only is the latter cheaper, it's also about half the thickness of buying the individual discs - if your house in anything like ours, with shelf-space at a premium, this is an important factor. Either way, each disc has extra features including interviews with Miike and a running commentary by writer Tom Mes. Normally, having a speaker unconnected with the film, would be a cheap, lazy cop-out (see the Showgirls alleged "VIP" edition), but having endured Miike's badly unfocused efforts on the Ichii the Killer commentary, I'm happy to settle for Mes. He can also put the films in the right cultural context for a Western audience, something that helps understand them. Besides, the interviews for each movie are there if you want Miike's insights.
Artsmagic have been kind enough to give us a copy of the 1 box-set, and despite the voices in our head telling us to keep it, we're going to let someone reading this review have it. All you need do is email firstname.lastname@example.org. Put "Taking the Miike" in the subject line, give us your postal address, and supply the answer to the following ridiculously easy question:
Name one other Takashi Miike movie, outside of the Black Society Trilogy, that Artsmagic have released. [See their website if you need help!]
This competition is now closed, and congratulations to Ian Horsch, a resident of Saybrook, Illinois, who won the box-set. It'll be on its way very soon...
If you're a fan of Miike, the set comes recommended. All three films are solid works which show how he's developed as a film-maker, and showcase different facets which prove he's much more than a sex 'n' violence purveyor. Not that these films will be mistaken for Disney flicks, of course. Novices to his offbeat world should probably start with Shinjuku Triad Society, as it's the most accessible, and work out from there. You'll soon discover that no-one in the West makes films anything like Takashi Miike.
[The three films are released on Aug. 31st in the US: for more information, visit ArtsMagic's website.]