Ley Lines
(Nihon Kuroshakai) (1999)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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A group of friends, all of whom are outcasts from society, decide to emigrate from Japan and live in Brazil. Together with a prostitute, they steal money from a gang of criminals to pay for their passage.

Ley Lines is far from Takashi Miike's best film. Its narrative is interesting and its characters are sympathetic, so that the movie is engaging throughout, but it lacks any distinctive quality that could elevate it to the status of an important artistic work.

Nevertheless, the director does incorporate into the movie a number of beautiful moments, and, using various images and camera techniques, he is able to evoke feelings of excitement, sorrow, and isolation. Unfortunately, he also indulges in his fondness for filming characters from a distance in poorly lit rooms so that it is frequently difficult for the viewer to determine who is speaking or engaging in a particular action. More often than not, however, Ley Lines is simply visually undistinguished and forgettable.

Despite its flaws, the film is not without its virtues. The greatest of these strengths is certainly Ley Lines' capacity to arouse in the viewer an awareness of its characters' sorrows, of the profound tragedies of their lives. The protagonists are a sad group. They have suffered at the hands of society and continue to suffer throughout the movie, often because of the choices they themselves have made. Although the viewer is made to sympathize with the characters when he sees how these choices were frequently made out of desperation, out of a desire to live a better life coupled with an inability to achieve that desire by any ordinary means, the director does not waver in his depictions of the sad consequences of their actions. The prostitute who befriends them is a particularly unhappy figure. She is brutally exploited and abused by those around here, and it is difficult to see how the life of such a person could ever be anything other than wretched, whatever she may do to try to escape such an existence. The viewer is left genuinely saddened by the sufferings she endures. Ley Lines is a terribly sorrowful film.

Many of the scenes do, however, include prominent comic elements, as that in which the prostitute is shown entertaining a client so energetic that their activities appear to be causing the ceiling of the restaurant over which her flat is located to collapse onto a table being used by a family of diners. Miike effectively uses such humorous details to increase the viewer's awareness of his unease. The situations, although funny, are, nevertheless, tragic, and when we are made to laugh we are made aware of the contrast of our amusement with the sorrowful nature of the events being shown.

I should note that, for persons intolerant of depictions of violence, non-normative sex, and the like, Ley Lines will be one of Miike's more accessible movies. Although the film is violent and does include depictions of sexual activities, the director never takes these depictions to the extremes he does in a number of his other efforts.

While Ley Lines is not among Miike's better movies, it is a decent and affecting work

Review by Keith Allen

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