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The City of Lost Souls
|     LunaSea's review    |     Sanjuro's Review      |     notes     |     availability     |
AKA: Hazard City "This always happens when I go to Japan!"
Michelle Reis
Year: 2000
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Teah, Michelle Reis, Patricia Monterola, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Koji Kikkwa, Terence Yin
The Skinny: Definitely not the best Takashi Miike film out there, but still very fun. The director's tongue-in-cheek, comic-like treatment of the Yakuza genre is increasingly more creative. There's also Michelle Reis, looking stunning as always, which may be a plus for many.
Review
by LunaSea:
     The scene: an arena full of excited fans, screaming their lungs out in anticipation for the next fight. The trainers enter the field through fancy high-tech doors. The fighters are waiting for the signal, anxious and confident, when suddenly the cells open and two loosely computer animated cocks jump out going at each other. They use kung-fu that would make Jet Li proud and then in a touch of comedic genius the air freezes with one of the two 'fighters' in mid air, the camera panning around, then following the animals in Matrix-like fashion. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the crazy world of Takashi Miike.
     The first time I watched a Miike film the thing that came to mind was Tsui Hark at his best. Here was a director whose energy and creativity hit you so violently that you hardly had enough time to digest what had happened. Tsui's critics often pointed out that he was a director who liked to throw (shoot) everything at the wall hoping something would stick, but when things worked for the Hong Kong New Wave master usually 80% of what he was "throwing at the wall" would stick so strongly that you could hardly forget it. Miike is the same, as his films take the genre denomination and flush it down the toilet. They make everything, from the simplest scene to the most important, stick out because of his visual creativity and the energy he uses in editing and arranging the film.
      Tsui Hark's biggest fault was probably his need to entertain people. His usage of unnecessary comedy often ruined powerful scenes. Today's Tsui Hark is a man who seems to have lost his touch after his brief and disastrous Hollywood tenure, and is facing great expectations he hasn't matched since his 1995 films The Blade and The Chinese Feast. On the other hand, Takashi Miike seems more interested in pleasing himself. Audience response comes a distant second. Miike is a director in his prime. He seems to improve film after film in his quest to destroy every genre's conventions. The results are works full of passion that are able to shock and entertain at the same time.
     What is similar between the two is that they're directors who are able to involve by attacking the viewer's senses. The success of their films is based on their ability to challenge your expectations regarding genre formulas, character development and the use of camera in storytelling. With City of Lost Souls (which at first seems like a routine action film) Miike is able to make something compelling just because of the way he approaches the idea of the Yakuza/gangster film. The characters here are purposely stereotypical, but he often goes further than that, adding comic-like situations (a midget who brushes his teeth with cocaine, an alien looking gangster, and more) and visual means to further his storytelling. It seems that the script for Miike is just an outline to remind him what the film is about. From there his imagination, the film's surroundings, his actors' interpretations, and other outside influences shape the film. In fact, if you had to sum the plot you'd get just that, an outline that wouldn't be enough to understand this film, because its force plays more on your senses than on your mind.
     Action here isn't just action. Miike uses the camera in different ways to bend common rules. Scenes don't end like you expect, meaning anything can happen at any given time. One may suggest all this ultimately means nothing, that the film is pointless. However, that might just be what the director wanted. Some may think City of Lost Souls is just an exercise in style over substance, but there's something deeper hidden under all the bombastic visuals. The film explores raw instincts like violence, love and emotional connection. He treats violence honestly and doesn't present it as something that's alien to us (Miike treats sex much the same way in his other movies). You never know where the characters will go because they never think about it. They just do whatever their instincts tell them, and that's the way Miike makes films too.
     There really isn't a performance that stands out in this film. It's more of an ensemble piece with fine, if unimpressive performances. But somehow it all works because they don't treat the stereotypical characters too seriously, and they really try to have fun with it. At the end the most interesting characters are the gangsters that follow them. The film is multi-ethnic (Brazilian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and who knows what else) and the constant change of language might confuse people, but after all it just adds to the fun.
     This is a film that should be taken as tongue-in-cheek, irreverent escapist entertainment, and there are no big ambitions or pretensions here. City of Lost Souls isn't as viscerally powerful and shocking as Miike's Dead or Alive, Audition or Visitor Q, but his creativity and incredible energy guarantee that you'll be challenged and compelled by what's onscreen - even when it's seemingly routine. The enfant terrible of Japanese Cinema has done much better (and worse) than City of Lost Souls, but you shouldn't miss this film anyway. (LunaSea 2002)
Alternate Review
Review by Calvin McMillin:      A man's head set aflame, a ping-pong game of death, and a Matrix-inspired CGI cockfight are just a small sample of the nutty things you'll see in Takashi Miike's deliriously entertaining City of Lost Souls. And despite the sheer Looney Tunes absurdity of the aforementioned scenes, the film isn't altogether insane. In fact, there's just enough believable human drama in here to make you care who lives or dies by the final reel.
     Once again, Miike takes a typical genre piece—an "on the run from the mob" plotline—mixes it with a love story, and twists it just a little further to make something truly his own. City of Lost Souls showcases a Japan that would give America a run for its money in the "melting pot" category. If this movie were to be believed, it would seem that gangster life in Japan is a virtual cornucopia of cross-culturalism as the Brazilian, Japanese, and Chinese people are locked in a seeming battle for survival. Our protagonist is Mario, a Japanese-Brazillian hitman, who's introduced in a guns-a-blazin' barroom shootout that borrows liberally from the John Woo handbook. But standard bullet ballet isn't enough for Miike, as his protagonist proceeds to hijack a helicopter moments later in an effort to save his Chinese gal pal Kei (Michelle Reis). It seems that Kei's stuck on a bus full of foreigners and headed for deportation, that is until Mario shows up with machine gun in hand. Mario's all-out assault on the bus to save his girlfriend is the kind of delirious comic action piece that would end most action movies, but in City of Lost Souls, this is only the beginning!
     Of course, after that exciting sequence it's still not smooth sailing for the characters. No, Mario and Kei have to deal with their own pasts as former lovers insinuate themselves into the narrative. Kei's ex is Ko (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), an obsessive, androgynous Chinese gangster, with a penchant for ping-pong, bondage, and model making. He's still in love with Kei, and will even to stoop to using his henchmen (headed by Terence Yin) to get her back. On Mario's side, there's Lucia (Patricia Monterola), a fiery prostitute, ex-lover, and primary caregiver for a blind girl named Carla. She still holds a grudge against Mario, but helps the happy couple anyway. Hoping to be smuggled out of the country by boat, the pair are forced to come up with some serious cash to pay a drunken Russian travel consultant who'll arrange their departure.
     But things only get worse when Mario and Kei crash a drug deal between Ko's men and a rival Japanese faction. Fittingly, Mario swipes not the money, but mistakenly a suitcase full of cocaine. Desperate for cash, he sells the drugs to a local TV anchorman, with disastrous results. Later, Fushimi (Koji Kikkawa), the self-appointed leader of the Yakuza gang, nabs little Carla to draw Mario out of hiding. Cue the uproarious, adrenaline-pumped finale, which is soon followed by an unexpected denouement that stays true to the film's noir roots. Still, Miike isn't content to end the film on such a down note. Stay tuned as the end credits roll for a hilarious kicker that shows how the surviving members of the movie cope with their losses. It seems that even amidst all this blood and carnage, true love springs eternal. Of course, for Miike, it occurs in a loony, totally perverse fashion!
     City of Lost Souls is a movie that could have easily unraveled due to its own tongue-in-cheek, anything-goes philosophy, but in truth, the film holds together remarkably well. Newcomer Teah pours just enough charm and charisma into his role as Mario to make his hitman character utterly likable. In fact, all the major characters are given such distinct personalities and looks that if given a chance, each one could probably carry a film on their own. Sure, sometimes believability gets chucked out the window in favor of a bizarre action or comedy setup, but Miike does it so well, that you don't even care. Much like the highly popular anime series Cowboy Bebop, Takashi Miike's City of Lost Souls successfully fuses so many familiar elements (Sergio Leone, film noir, manga) while adding a great deal of himself, that the end product feels like something brand new. (Calvin McMillin, 2002)
Notes: • Based on a novel by Seishu Hase
The American Cinematheque release includes a mini-game called "Escape from Tokyo" that tests viewers' knowledge on a variety of subjects relating to the film's more peculiar aspects. The game's a hoot; just don't play it before you watch the movie.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Laser
Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
DVD (USA)
Region 0 NTSC
American Cinematheque
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Making of The City of Lost Souls, Theatrical Trailers, Takeshi Miike Filmography
"Escape from Tokyo" game

image courtesy of Mei Ah Laser Disc Co., Ltd.

   
 
 
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