Fudoh (1996)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Synopsis & Analysis
Takashi Miike's Fudoh relates the efforts of a teenaged boy named Riki to avenge the murder of his elder brother by their Yakuza father. He is aided in his endeavors to kill his father and the various members of his father's gang by his own coterie of underaged hoodlums, including a gun wielding schoolgirl, an hermaphrodite who uses her vagina to hurl darts, a pair of grade school aged boy assassins, and a giant.

The ways by which each of these characters is distinguished from the others are reminiscent of the means by which superheroes are distinguished from one another in children's cartoons. Not only does this conceit lend the film a definite humor, but it also helps the viewer to remember the events in which particular characters have taken part. Consequently, unlike many of Miike's other works, in which he introduces such a plethora of characters that it can be difficult for the viewer to keep track of them, Fudoh is actually fairly easy to follow, despite its large cast.

The movie is also one of the director's most accessible. Though frequently gruesome, Fudoh is never horrific. Whatever feelings of disgust or abhorrence the film could possibly have aroused are largely undermined by its strange and exaggerated humor. When, for example, a Yakuza chief is killed in a car with a poison that causes blood to spray from every part of his body, he spews so much blood that gallons of it pour out of the car when the door is opened. Instead of being grisly or distressing, the ridiculous excess of the scene imbues it with a macabre humor. Other scenes are similarly morbid, but their quirkiness makes them far less shocking than they could have been. Several are even oddly funny. In one, vaginal fluids can be seen emerging from the blowgun used by the hermaphrodite when she shoots a dart. In another, when she uses the blowgun while menstruating, she sprays her intended victim with her menstrual blood. In a third, a group of children is shown playing soccer with the severed head of one of the teachers from Riki's school, which is smashed by the giant when he kicks it. Such sequences are lurid but are never particularly repulsive. They are so consistently exaggerated that much of the horrific effect they could have had is dissipated.

Fudoh is hard to characterize. The opening credits proclaim the movie to be socially subversive, and it does provide a disquieting, darkly humorous perspective on contemporary society, but it is not a didactic diatribe. It is satiric, but the comedic elements never dominate the film's mood. Fudoh is not really focused enough to be satire. It is not a horror or an action film either, as the satiric elements undermine any sense of either fear or heroism the movie might have aroused. While I may not know what precisely to make of it, I did enjoy Fudoh. It is strange and entertaining, and it is subversive.

Review by Keith Allen

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