cast: Teah, Michelle Reis, Koji Kikkawa, Mitshuhiro Oikawa, and Akira Emoto
director: Miike Takashi
103 minutes (18) 2000
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region ‘0’ retail
reviewed by Rob Marshall
Another unusual cross-genre movie from the maker of Audition and Dead Or Alive, Takashi Miike’s The City Of Lost Souls (aka: The City Of Strangers, The Hazard City) was originally titled Hyöryuu-gai gai, which translates as ‘drifting town’, plays like an ethnocentric remix of The Getaway (1972), Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), and Lynch’s Wild At Heart (1990), and is oddly reminiscent, at times, of Rodriguez’ remake/sequel, Desperado (1995).
Essentially, it’s the story of doomed lovers, antihero Mario (Brazilian-Japanese model/actor Teah) and his Chinese girlfriend Kei (Michelle Reis, who appeared in 1990’s Chinese Ghost Story 2, and later played Ting-ting in Jet Li vehicle The Legend – originally titled ‘Fong Sai-yuk’, and its sequel). Mario is a charismatic ‘man’s man’ who rips off a yakuza drug dealer to buy fake passports so he can escape from the Japanese underworld with Kei to Australia. However, ambitious smart-suited Tokyo mobster Fushimi, who lusts after Kei for bondage practice, and who’s only happy when kidnapping little blind girls to terrorise, is leader of the motley crew of villains, and if he ever had a conscience it’s gone AWOL.
What distinguishes this from other fantasy-action movies of its kind is director Miike’s anarchic depiction of Japan as a cultural melting pot, and his reinvention of cheap camera tricks with such a tremendous and defiant enthusiasm that we’ll eagerly forgive any number of distracting, even pointless, throwaway gags. If you enjoyed The Matrix, you’ll love this film’s digital cockfight, and the ping-pong kung fu scene, while the hectic opening sequence where Mario rescues Kei from being deported sublimes into an hilarious instance of superhero action sure to provoke academic study for a ‘racial-archetypes-in-the-media’ dissertation.
Among all the frivolity of breaking the camera lens and the amusing reality-TV show asides, there are exquisite scenes of visual poetry, as when a spider crawling on a sleeping girl’s shoulder reappears later as a tattoo. If you’re tired of blandly unimaginative Hollywood product, but still want spectacular action with a strong idiosyncratic sense of the absurd, checkout this offbeat thrill ride.
DVD extras: interview with the director, filmographies of director and stars, film notes by Tom Mes, and a trailer reel of other works by this director available from Tartan on disc.