Osaka Tough Guys (1995)

Rating: B

Dir: Takashi Miike
Star: Sei Hiraizumi, Kentaro Nakakura, Hachiro Oka, Yoshiyuki Omori

Whatever happened to ArtsMagic? They sent me an advance copy of this DVD to review, more than two years ago. However, the finished version never appeared, and so this review has been languishing in a dark corner of my computer ever since. That’s a shame; Bird People in China holds a special place in our hearts, not least for being the first ever time we were quoted on a DVD sleeve. Anyway; I digress. [Duh. That’s what I do…] Trust Miike to deliver a film with more twists than a box of pretzels. Not so much plot-wise, as in continually surprising you with the direction it takes, right from the opening where two young thugs defend a woman from an enemy gang.

Their battle is interrupted by a man who is being chased by a pig-tailed, transvestite version of the Terminator. Okayyyyyy… This isn’t a film you watch, so much as cling desperately onto, since the shifts in tone defy description. Yet oddly, it all works far better than you might expect. The “heroes” are the aforementioned young thugs: expelled from school, they reply to an advertisement, only to be press-ganged into becoming apprentice Yakuza. Except, their gang are…well, a bit crap, failing miserably even when trying to collect debts from an elderly couple (though they do get some nice sushi). About the only plus they have is Daimon, a monster who loves to fight and fornicate, regardless of the location.

It also helps that the local rivals are equally ineffectual: when their leader sees Daimon screwing “his” girl in a hostess bar, violence looms… except, all he does is sing some mopey karaoke. Basically, it’s a delightful, deadpan parody, bearing the same relation to a “serious” Japanese gangster film that Carry On Cleo does to Gladiator: here, samurais are kept in the closet, and a hijacked moped allows our heroes to roll to the rescue of their damsel at a stately six m.p.h. The characters are great too, and while I suspect some of the cultural stuff may sail over Western heads, more than enough work, making this thoroughly entertaining, and an engagingly loopy treat of deranged imagination.