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Alex Von David
The beautiful Sheela (NorA) has betrayed her abusive Yakuza lover and has stolen a cache of money to start a new life. She enlists the aid of a young former Yakuza underling, Sai (Takeda Shinji) and together they make their daring escape. Sheela hopes to be able to do all of this by her pending birthday, her so-called "Chrysalis Day", a day where she hopes to make a new destiny for herself and her new love.
This is the premise behind Kitamura Ryuhei's newest film, the ambitious, visually stunning and very bizarre "LoveDeath". While it may seem that Kitamura is channeling the spirits of Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez, I think "LoveDeath" reminded me more of the works of Tony Scott, especially his films "True Romance" and "Domino" which had similar themes.
"LoveDeath" is a visceral mind-trip that tries to be hip and cool by mixing ultra-violence with quirky and outrageous comedy but the results feel less like "Pulp Fiction" and more like the recent "Smokin' Aces".
As with that film, "LoveDeath" lacks Tarantino's smart and quirky dialog of "Pulp Fiction" or the inventive "bullet ballet" choreography of the Milkyway HK films like "Exile" or "Mission" and what we have is just showy, mindless, explosive mayhem.
"LoveDeath" was inspired by the comic/manga "69" by Takahashi Tsutomu and indeed the film at times looks and plays like one, with bizarre and often surreal sequences of violence and action.
The film is definitely an attractive looking film and the cast is quite a strange mix of performers.
Oddly, the film is populated by an eclectic assemblage of singer turned actors in prominent and cameo roles including singers NorA, Otomo Kohei (lead singer of 80's J-Pop group Hound Dog), Izumiya Shigeru, IZAM (former leader of the Glam Rock group Shazuna) and Yoshimura Yumi (of Puffy AmiYumi fame).
While Takeda Shinji plays lead character, Sai with atypical stoic, heroic coolness, he is constantly overshadowed by the often flamboyant performances of those around him including Funakoshi Ichiro (who plays the main Crime Boss after Sheela), Musaka Naomasa (a corrupt Police Detective, who can't seem to die), Terajima Susumu (another corrupt Detective working for the Mob),Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (a bumbling Junior Detective), Leo Morimoto (who plays "Father", a torture expert who reenacts torture scenes from other movies), Sugimoto Aya (a bisexual Yakuza mistress) and Yinling of JOYTOY (who plays "Sister", a Dominatrix).
There are also quite a bit of cameos from other well known "tough guy" actors who have played Yakuza roles in the past like fan favorite Takeuchi Riki, Ozawa Hitoshi and Sakaki Hideo.
Models Yoshioka Miho Yoshioka, Kawai Chiharu, Kawamura Kaori are pure eye candy and there's even a cameos from Gaikokujin Talento like Chuck Wilson (as a gunner runner) and Nicholas Pettas (as an unlucky good Samaritan).
IZAM is a definite standout as the stylish leader of a band of incompetent assassins sent after the couple. Looking very much like Morning Musume Svengali Tsunku, he is hilarious every time he comes out. wrestler Masakatsu Funaki is also funny as a dimwitted trigger happy assassin who can't seem to kill the right people.
For all its comedic touches, strangeness and gritty action however, "LoveDeath" seems to be like so many recent Hollywood action films, big on action and style but short on story or invention.
Kitamura's "Versus" seems so much better in comparison with its fresh and innovative action scenes and style.
While an entertaining diversion, don't expect to be blown away (excuse the pun) by "LoveDeath".
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