Shinjuku Triad Society
(Shinjuku kuroshakai: Chaina mafia senso) (1995)
Directed by Takashi Miike

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Tatsuhito, a policeman of mixed Chinese and Japanese parentage, is investigating Wang Zhimin, the leader of a Chinese Triad in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Wang, who employs Tatsuhito's brother as his attorney, is, meanwhile, both illegally importing human organs for transplant and fighting with the Japanese Yakuza.

Takashi Miike's Shinjuku Triad Society is the director's first important movie, and, with its gangsters, frenetic pace, grisly violence, and concern with ethnic tensions existing within Japanese society, includes a number of the elements that would characterize his later work. It is also an interesting, often moving film in its own right.

By evoking throughout the movie a dark, brutal underworld of mobsters, policemen, and the various victims of both, the director is able to involve the viewer with the wretched lives of these persons, whose savage crimes and sufferings he repeatedly depicts. While the effect Miike achieves by telling the lurid stories of such individuals can be oppressive, his movie is, for that very reason, genuinely engaging. He fascinates the moviegoer with his characters' harsh lives and, consequently, allows him to experience the viciousness which permeates their universe with a real poignancy.

In fact, Shinjuku Triad Society is an extremely violent film. The narrative is punctuated by frequent bursts of shocking brutality, with which Miike is able to elicit feelings of ferocity and horror. The viewer is given only brief moments of respite between scenes depicting murders, beatings, a woman having her eye gouged out, homosexual and heterosexual rapes, children displaying scars from having their organs surgically removed, and so on. When Miike made Shinjuku Triad Society, he had not yet, however, developed the stylized approach that would characterize many of his subsequent films, and which better enables the viewer to experience ferocity, horror, and revulsion as raw, abstracted emotions, devoid of any objects. The violence of this film is, consequently, not as effective in creating the emotional impact the director achieves with similar depictions in his later films.

The effect of Shinjuku Triad Society is further weakened by its numerous technical flaws. Many of its scenes are, for example, so dark that it is difficult for the viewer to discern the events being depicted or to tell who is speaking at a given moment.

This is not to say that Shinjuku Triad Society is a failure. While it is not as accomplished as are many of the director's later films, the movie is a fascinating depiction of the brutal, harsh lives of gangsters. It is an effective, interesting work and is indicative of the directions in which Miike would later move.

Review by Keith Allen

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