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After going to prison for killing the boss of the Kanno gang, a gangster gets released early - only to find that his ex-gang has merged with the Kannos. But with bitter resentments lingering on both sides, bloodshed is bound to begin anew.
1985 was a hallmark year in the career of a director who has all but evaded the critical recognition he deserves in the Occident but who steadily and successfully climbed the ladder of Japanese cinema going from programme genre pictures to sprawling, complex, multiplotted, prestigious releases like this in a matter of 20 years. KAI, the third and final Tomiko Miyao adaptation Hideo Gosha filmed in the 80's after YOKIRO and ONIMASA, along with USUGESHO released also the same year earned the two films a total sum of 14 nominations in the Japanese Academy Awards.
A further testament to the fact that Awards (however prestigious they might be) are rarely a mark of actual quality and more often a mark of belated talent recognition by various cliques of fuddy daddies long out of touch with their times, KAI is far from Hideo Gosha's best work. It plays like a glorified two-hour soap opera episode and is in all respects, stylistic or narrative, toned down (I won't say dumbed because predictability is not a mark of 'dumbness') to appeal to a large demographic. Perhaps he expended all his boldness in the more risqué crime story of the same year's USUGESHO (which resembles Imamura's VENGEANCE IS MINE in more ways than one, not least of all in Ken Ogata's brooding presence as killer on the loose) so that KAI is left to bring the rear with a conventional drama that never steps out of the box.
To Gosha's credit, both the mid-film and actual film climaxes resonate with emotional power but the inbetween bits never rise to the occasion. It's all a dull succession of scenes meant to show the shifting relationships within a family led by a womanizing patriarch (played by Ken Ogata in one of his typical monomaniac roles) and the wife who suffers with quiet dignity before rebelling against him, propelled forward by not one but two 10 Years Later jumps in time, and touching on a variety of characters that never take centerstage long enough to become flesh and bones.
The clash between Ogata and the rival yakuza boss who killed his son foreshadowed in the mid-film climax proves to be horribly anticlimactic while other characters like step daughter Kiku vanish for long stretches of time. It's too sprawling and thinly stretched to really come together, even though it kind of does in the end, when it's sadly too little too late. Filmed in the disciplined, unobtrusive, invisible style Gosha favoured in his later day (which, for all its effectiveness, makes one yearn the wild explosion of style and colour of films like GOYOKIN), KAI is not a bad film but it's predictable and just not very interesting.
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