City of Lost Souls
(Hyoryuu-gai) (2001)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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When Mario (Teah), a Brazilian man living in Tokyo, attempts to obtain documents to get his Chinese girlfriend Kei (Micelle Reis) out of Japan and to Brazil, he becomes involved in various drug deals, robberies, murders, and cock fights, which, in turn, lead to a complex series of difficulties with Chinese and Japanese mobsters, the Brazilian community in Japan, hitmen, a Russian smuggler, and an ex-girlfriend and prostitute with a blind daughter.

Abounding with a bewildering multitude of characters, The City of Lost Souls is at times difficult to follow, but it is still one of Takashi Miike's more approachable films.

In fact, despite its superabundance of characters, several of whom complicate the narrative with their own motivations, The City of Lost Souls is consistently engaging. Many of these individuals enrich the film with their quirkiness or bizarre fetishes, and even those who are less interesting do not detract from the movie's quality. Even the confusion Miike creates by using such a large cast actually contributes to the film's artistic effect. Mario and several of the other characters are often confused themselves and make mistakes as a consequence. By reflecting their desperation and consternation, the fast pace and complexity of the events depicted in The City of Lost Souls produce similar feelings of bewilderment in the viewer and allow him to participate emotionally in the characters' world.

The quality of the film is further enhanced by the consistently engaging performances of the actors. Reis, for instance, brings a real complexity to her role. When Kei is first introduced, she appears to be helpless and indecisive, but, as the film progresses, the moviegoer learns that there is a good deal more to her. Happily, Reis handles Kei's transitions well, unifying them so that the viewer is not left with the sense that Miike has been inconsistent in his portrayal of the character. The viewer is, instead, given the impression that he is simply seeing different facets of a single personality. Teah is perhaps even better, if far less subtle, in his role. He plays Mario with a wonderful gusto and has one of the most engaging on screen personas I have encountered in some time.

What is more, the countless fight sequences included in the film give it a real sense of excitement and generally enthrall the viewer. These scenes, it should be noted, though violent, are not as extremely so as are those in many of Miike's other films. The City of Lost Souls will, consequently, be more bearable than those other movies for persons sensitive to such things. They do, however, make up a large part of this very quickly paced film. The City of Lost Souls rarely moves slowly.

Unfortunately, the film, though tremendously fun to watch, is deeply flawed. Like many of Miike's movies, The City of Lost Souls seems to have been made too quickly. There are numerous minor inconsistencies and technical faults that could have been corrected had more time been spent on the production. Some of the computer generated special effects are also sadly lacking. Besides a particularly laughable explosion, a truly bizarre Matrix inspired cockfight is not nearly as entertaining as it could have been had it been realized with better effects. It is, nonetheless, one of the film's most memorable moments.

While far from Miike's best work, The City of Lost Souls is a wonderfully exhilarating, tremendously fun movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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