Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ley Lines (1999)

Director: Takashi Miike
Notable Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Michisuke Kashiwaya, Tomorowo Taguchi, Dan Li, Show Aikawa, Naoto Takenaka, Samuel Pop Aning, Oh Far-long

To finalize his thematically connected Black Society Trilogy, Takashi Miike goes for a combination of the first two (Shinjuku Triad Society and Rainy Dog) for the third entry Ley Lines. While this idea seems very promising at its conception, the resulting mix that arrives in Ley Lines is a tad underwhelming particularly when the expectations are so high. The film is still an ambitious and artistic venture into the world of outsiders and their connection to organized crime and certainly deserves a lot of praise thrown its way, but it’s not nearly as entertaining in its grit nor is it as stylized in its characterizations as the previous entries. On its own, it’s still an accomplished work showing Miike’s directorial pizzazz at being able to weave exploitative elements with dramatic heft and thoughtful exploration of its themes, but at the same time the film tends to fall off balance with a few sequences that undercut the whole.

Two brothers and their close friend have had a rough go living in Japan. This is because they are of Chinese parents and no one will let them forget that they don’t belong. So it’s their intent to leave, but to do so they will have to earn some money and some contacts to get out of the country and this leads them to leave home and try and find their way in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Unfortunately, the easiest and fastest way to earn some cash is working with the underbelly of the criminal activity, but it’s also the most dangerous.

The future...is staring back at them.
Ley Lines is a film that at times, particularly in the first act of the film, is a throwback to the ‘wild youth’ films of decades past in Japanese cinema. Perhaps this parallel has to do with my recent viewing of films like the Stray Cat Rock series, but Ley Lines starts off using this concept of youth that are disconnected and not content with their placement in life and it bleeds into the Miike theme of outsiders in a rather smooth manner. The film goes for the more vague character builds that Miike has made a staple of his career and it introduces us to three young men attempting to run away and make something out of their lives. There is a lot of fun “in the moment” sequences here that build their relationships nicely, albeit in a vague manner, and the performances are phenomenal to add the layering needed to hook it’s audience. This first act is something impressive in the ways of dramatic build and it kicks off the film nicely, particularly when you get a great opening scene like the one where Ryuichi, played with intensity by Kitamura, attempts to get a passport to leave Japan.

However, it’s the second act where things start to feel unfocused and meander a bit too far. The addition of a more complex series of criminal activities to complicate matters and the arrival of a new character, a Shanghai prostitute, pull away too much from the intended focus. There are moments where this can work, seeing how she is just as used by the cruel men around her as these young friends are. However, moments were some of the black humor doesn’t work – including a very abrasive sexual encounter – detract from the message a bit too much. The same goes with some of the yakuza aspects. There are a handful of characters form the criminal realm that arrive that don’t add much to the narrative outside of being the “other” that our protagonists fight against. In the end, most of it still works, but there are moments where the flow and effective execution stumbles just a bit.

It's okay to look back.
Ley Lines is still a solid piece of cinema from Miike that uses its themes to deliver a thought provoking message, especially in the third act as things start to crumble around our protagonists. The execution is decently strong in visuals and in performances, but the writing just wavers a bit too much here and there in meandering subplots to have the full impact it might have. While I know this feeling of being underwhelmed tends to be the minority of critical opinions on the film, it still come be that it comes paired with two other brilliant Miike yakuza films in the Black Society Trilogy. Fans are certain to like it if not love it, but try to consume it on its own merits rather than continually comparing it to the other two.


Black Society Trilogy

  • High Definition digital transfers of all three films
  • Original uncompressed PCM stereo audio
  • Optional English subtitles for all three films
  • New interview with director Takashi Miike
  • New interview with actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines)
  • New audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes
  • Original theatrical trailers for all three films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the films

  • Written By Matt Reifschneider

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