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Ley Lines is the third installment in the Triad Society trilogy, and like
the others this is a (almost) serious film. It revolves around a group of
outsiders (sound familiar?) trying to survive in the rough Osaka
neighborhood. The movie has a very nostalgic atmosphere and since it
revolves around the yakuza world, there are a couple of
in this one, however without compromising the atmosphere or tone of the
film. So like Shinjuku Triad Society this one is sort of a mix between
serious and insane, and a great movie to boot.
I just completed Miike's Black Society trilogy and I found each and
every movie to be very enjoyable. The opening film Shinjuku Triad
Society was a bit over the top, but I'm still glad I took the time out
to watch it. The jewel in this trilogy of movies however easily is
Rainy Dog with Ley Lines coming in as a close second. Both of those
films were so hauntingly beautiful and yet gritty in its depiction of
the character's lives and their struggles. And although the stories in
this group of movies are nothing original, they are a testament to the
fact that the way a story is told accounts for a lot.
Shinjuke Triad Society - 7 Rainy Dog - 8.75 Ley Lines - 8
Can anyone recommend movies similar to this?
Ley Lines (the English title of Japan Triad Society) is the third part of Miike's Triad Society Trilogy but it (and the other parts) can be seen out of order as they contain no recurring characters or storylines. A funny, sad film about bored small town delinquents travelling to Tokyo and being outclassed by the big city criminals. Beautiful camerawork.
This was a much more character-driven storyline than one might expect from Miike, and very nicely done, although it doesn't exactly score huge points for originality. We have the hooker with the heart of gold, and the usual tale of three disaffected youths trying to better their lot in life, only to fall into a life of crime that leads to disaster. But all of the characters are still sympathetic, and Miike's way of framing his story against the real sense of disconnection that his Chinese characters feel living in Japan is effective (even if American viewers might only pick it out after having a critic more savvy in Asian societal dynamics explain it first). This is also the most gorgeously shot Miike film I think I've seen, rich with deeply saturated and highly stylized colors. 8/10 from me.
Three young delinquents strive to do something with their respective
lives, hopping on a train to Tokyo. Dan Li from XX: Beautiful Beast
plays a hooker who tricks the young naive men getting away with their
many. Karma's a bitch though and her pimp beats her up for having too
much money. After a run-in with a truly sadistic john, she runs into
the threesome yet again, but she's more susceptible to go along with
their various plans. This film, the third and last in Takashi Miike's
thematically linked 'Black Society trilogy' combines the feel of the
first two. And though I find it head and shoulders above "Shinjuku
Triad Society", I don't feel that it was quite strong as "Black Rain",
due to the story seeming to be all over the place.
My Grade: B-
DVD Extras: An EXTREMELY informative Commentary by Tom Mes (the guy really knows his stuff); 2 interviews with Takashi Miike; Yasushi Shimamura interview; Artwork; Bio/Filmograhies; and a theatrical Trailer
It's strange: while I would probably much rather watch one of the more
insane and, by virtue of reputation, more popular works repeatedly from
Takashi Miike like Ichi the Killer or Visitor Q, a film like Ley Lines
or Graveyard of Honor are probably technically better made "films", and
is a wonderful but harsh reminder of how dedicated an artist Miike can
be with the right material. Ley Lines is dark and depressing and about
alienation and filmed often with a detached and unflinching eye on the
plight of its young Chinese outsiders. It's also at times, not too
unusually for Miike, strange and random and violent and with bits of
deranged sex (here, as in other Japanese films, blurred out amusingly
with blue lightning). I knew watching it I should've found some of the
choices Miike made almost too detached or too pretentious or too stark
with its depiction of some kind of reality. But by the end, I didn't
care, in a sense.
That sense really has to do with connection with the bulk of the director's stylistic choices and the characters who with only a little development appear fully realized (or at least sympathetic as the lost and tortured souls of this story). It's about three Chinese guys who leave their blasé suburban lives and go to Tokyo, where they're soon robbed blind by a prostitute. Ironically, and in what is at first irony and then becomes a minor tragedy, the prostitute's Chinese currency doesn't fare at all with her nasty pimp and her other call duties are ugly at best and revolting (or just plain twisted underground crap) at worst, and she ends up back with them by an odd twist of fate. The Chinese youths go through some unsuccessful motions, like selling an ether-esquire drug, before one decides that it's time to leave this dreadful Tokyo landscape: Brazil. A heist is plotted, and executed, but with (somewhat) typical fatalistic results.
Miike seems to be experimenting, but at times in subtle gestures with the camera and lighting that suggest perhaps his own questioning of himself and his skills as opposed to just what the script requires. It's an exhilarating mix-and-match; early on we get that rushing bravura of the variety where we get put into the rush and vibrancy of youth with the camera tracking unevenly along as they ride bikes or gliding in a long take across the train station into the train car. Then, in Tokyo, sometimes a shot will just last a while on something and Miike won't cut if something violent or action-like is happening right in the next room (in these instances the cut-away to a close-up, or the emphasis on leaving a spot, becomes paramount). And last by not least Miike tries a red filter in the bulk of the frame, adding some crazy but always interesting effect to scenes like the one kid running through the streets to get back to his friend whom somehow he knows is beat up, or in the scenes towards the end (not to mention that very random but affecting moments with that man in the underground room requesting stories from Shanghai girls- very specifically those girls- and a fish somehow makes its way into the inter-cutting of a story).
On top of this, Miike's actors, most of whom I've never seen much of before with only one (Shoi Aikawa) I can recognize immediately, are all top shelf talents seemingly without doing much most of the time. It's after the heist, of course, that their chops are tested even more, and it's hard not to get caught up emotionally or feel frazzled as the one kid goes on about childhood memories and his mother in the back of the car. Somehow against all of the possible pit-falls of being ironically showy with his attempts at depicting these alienated people and the dregs of society (the real criminals here are go-for-broke evil people, including an oddball African) Miike makes the themes and ideas stand out excellently. In the 'art-film' sensibility, in fact, his compositions are incredible, and his control of fluctuating mood matches that of something out of the French new-wave, comparisons to Bande a part not-withstanding.
So, in short, don't watch it if you're expecting a Dead-or-Alive or a Gozu. This is serious film-making about tragic and lost souls, with only some (chilling) slices of the wild-man Japanese director we all know and love in some circles.
The final part of Takashi Miike's loosely structured "Black Society
Trilogy" is an incredibly effective film; one that occasionally suffers
from the more adolescent moments of shock and spectacle presented in
films such as Dead or Alive (1999) and Ichi the Killer (2001), but one
that also manages to ultimately overcome such limitations through the
combined quality of the script and the performances. Like the other two
films in the trilogy, Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) and Rainy Dog
(1997), Ley Lines (1999) focuses on ideas of cultural and spatial
disconnection, exile, family and the need to escape. It also exists
within the same murky environment, populated by gangsters, pimps,
prostitutes and lowlifes, all struggling to survive by whatever means
necessary. Though at times incredibly brutal - and featuring one scene
that really pushes the levels of taste and decency beyond that of the
aforementioned Dead or Alive - there is, nonetheless, a strong sense of
humour to the film, and a genuine sense of warmth that is expressed
through the four central characters and their position as outcasts
within a harsh and ultimately destructive world. It also establishes
one of Miike's other recurring themes, that of the importance of
family; with characters disconnected from their original families and
displaced from society, coming together and forming their own makeshift
family-unit with a shared goal of escaping Japan for the potential
dream of happiness waiting elsewhere.
It is this central strand of the narrative that defines the film - establishing the background of the characters and the circumstances offered to them in this particular violent underworld - as Miike juxtaposes the more abrasive scenes of gun-play and sexual violence alongside more reflective moments of character and drama. If you're familiar with some of Miike's other films, in particular Birds (2000) and the aforementioned Rainy Dog, then you will be accustomed to this particular stylistic contrast; as the director veers wildly from a shoot-out scene in an alleyway, to a scene of the kids riding their scooters around Tokyo. Moments like this are given an even greater feeling of intimacy and warmth through the use of hand-held cinematography, colour filters and a largely accordion led soundtrack, which establishes quieter moments of transcendence and beauty to punctuate the more shocking instances of violence and brutality. These moments show Miike's true worth as a filmmaker, bringing to mind the sublime beauty of a film like The Bird People of China (1998) with the emphasis placed continually on moments of character; as well as adding a greater depth to the more violent scenes, which simply reinforce the bond between these central characters and their urgent need to escape.
The power of the characters on both sides of the struggle here, win out; making the elements of human drama ultimately more rewarding, and the moments of violence simply adding to this; reinforcing our connection to the characters and the oppression that threatens to destroy them. By the end of the film we're rooting for their escape and their victory over these warring gangs' intent on maintaining the status quo. However, as the film approaches its climax, Miike begins breaking down the elements of reality even further; obscuring the image with dark red colour filters and fragmented compositions, as well as suggesting certain elements of dream logic. As a result, the ending of the film is somewhat enigmatic. Nonetheless, it does tie together the overall themes of the film perfectly, whilst simultaneously suggesting so much more about those continuing ideas of cultural and geographical displacement and the journey that began when both of these characters decided to leave home. Although it isn't an easy film to view, given the often controversial depiction of sexual violence and some of Miike's more jaw-dropping cinematic touches, including those infamous moments of self-censorship, the overall feeling that we are left with as the credits appear is entirely overwhelming.
Ley Lines is certainly a controversial and inscrutable work - very much in tune with films like Rainy Dog, Birds and the epic Agitator (2001) with the continual themes of violence, loyalty, family and dislocation - but one that also manages to move the viewer on an emotional level; eliciting sympathy and understanding for these characters, as well as provoking more immediate reactions that still linger, long after the film has ended. The cast is incredibly varied, featuring a strong mixture of talented new comers like Kazuki Kitamura, Michisuke Kashiwaya and Dan Li, alongside Miike regulars like Tomorowo Taguchi, Naoto Takenaka, Kôji Tsukamoto and the iconic Sho Aikawa. The combination of these bold, affecting and naturalistic performances, combined with the heavily colour-filtered images that employ Miike's regular trademark of spontaneous filming on the streets of Shinjuku, lend the film an intimacy and a sense of urgency that is all the more relevant when we think of the central themes of the story. If you're familiar with Miike's work beyond the more widely seen trio of Dead or Alive, Audition and Ichi the Killer, then Ley Lines is a definite one to watch. With this film, Miike creates a bold and incredibly interesting work that manages to skilfully juggle between moments of brutality and tranquillity, character and action, comedy and drama; while carefully blending them together into a cohesive and ultimately incredibly moving whole.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ley Lines is the last part of Miike Takashi's Triad Society trilogy. It deals with one of the director's most constant themes: The Chinese community in Japan. Three first generation Japanese teenagers, born from Chinese parents, decide to leave their hometown, where they don't fit, for Tokyo. There, they meet several characters: a drug maker, played by Sho Aikawa a Takashi's regular, and his African mate, a Chinese born prostitute and a yakuza boss, also Chinese, played by the chameleonic actor Nakenaka Naoto also seen in films such as Gonin and Shall we dance?. It is lighter, funnier and less violent than the other two trilogy's films. Its main concern is to show the difficulties that these people have for integration in Japanese society, and their search for an identity. This is something that Takashi has already tackled in other films such as Dead or Alive and Shinjuku Triad Society. Their small countryside village, where they were born, is probably a too Japanese environment. Even the cosmopolitan city of Tokyo does not satisfy them and they start making plans to travel to Brazil. This is a very interesting and ironic choice as Brazil was the destination of many Japanese emigrants at the turn of the century, a subject explored by Tizuka Yamasaki in her film "Gaijin". Also, the main character in Kurosawa's "Record of a Living Being" plans to move to Brazil with his reluctant family for fear of a nuclear war. Furthermore, Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.
The film raises questions about how Japan is responding to the influx of Asian immigrants and how these are taken over the Japanese yakuza illegal activities (the running of soapland clubs, pachinko shops and drugs). The area of Shinjuku, once a traditional yakuza feud, is now in the hands of the Chinese triads. Does this mean that proper jobs are only restricted to the Japanese? The Chinese yakuza boss is a clear example of this inability to integrate in Japanese society. His yearning for the motherland is too great. He only finds peace of mind when told Traditional Chinese children stories. He is ruthless if he believes these stories are not "authentic" Chinese stories by killing the storyteller. The last shot of the film is an impressive metaphor of this theme of identity search. Starting as close-up of one of the teenagers and the prostitute in a boat, the camera pulls back and flies away from them who are seen drifting in the middle of the ocean. Miike Takashi is a director that likes trying different film techniques. There is a brilliant hand-held camera sequence as the teenagers are trying to sell drugs in the middle of Shinjuku. This cinema-verity sequence shows to its full the exhilarating, bubbling street scene of this area as well as its growing ethnic diversity. It now ranks alongside other world's hot spots such as London's Soho, New York's Times Square, Paris' Latin Quarter and Barcelona's Barrio Chino. Also Takashi likes breaking with some sexual taboos. In all of his films I have seen he acknowledges the existence of people with a rather peculiar sexual taste, without making any judgement on them. So the prostitute shares a bed with the three teenagers and, out of compassion for one of them, has sex with all of them. This does not seem to cause any problems between the boys. Another sequence involves one the of prostitute's customer who likes to peek inside her vagina. For that purpose he uses some sort of surgical equipment to keep her vagina wide open while he is taking a look. Here, there is a hilarious point of view shot of her vagina showing the man's childish expression of amazement and awe.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Anyone who gets tired of Miike's over-the-top style would do well to
watch the Black Society Trilogy, three movies with a shared theme of
transnational alienation in the underground that stick out as some of
his more sober and effective films. Ley Lines is the story of three
friends, half Chinese, half Japanese, who run away from home to try to
survive in Tokyo. Needless to say, their lives in the underground
aren't too successful, as through various run-ins with a Shanghaian
prostitute, a drug dealer, and a crime lord named Wong, most of them
end up dead.
Labeled on the back of the ArtsMagic DVD as being an exploration into racism, that aspect covers only about a third of what is going on here. There are many discussions in the movie, indeed, about race, oftentimes with racial slurs bleeped out (Miike is not one to censor himself, so someone else must have censored him; on the other hand, not all bad words and slurs are censored, so maybe the censorship was purposeful to provide a bit of ambiguity as to what the characters are actually saying. I can't tell). The Black Society Trilogy, however, is about the underground and undercurrents, something that may not seem all that different than Miike's larger oeuvre but which is covered through entirely different concerns. Alienation is the biggest aspect; dangerous self-destruction another. The characters in Ley Lines escape small-town bullying and rivalry to include themselves in something much larger, much more dangerous, and completely out of their ability to handle.
Ley Lines pops up in essays and descriptions of Miike as one of his finer works, and I have to say I agree. At first I wasn't too taken by it because most of it is under-exposed and dark and it took a while to build. However, both of course were the point: I'ven't seen a Miike movie take its time to build like this since Audition, and the cinematography is a sickly saturated primary color scheme that foreshadows Miike's later Big Bang Love, Juvenile A. Big Bang Love, Juvenile A gets compared to Lars Van Trier from time to time, and if that's the case, I'd compare Ley Lines to a Michael Haneke movie: each scene is built off of a particular, isolated pastiche.
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