Quentin Tarantino quotes Takashi Miike as “the best director of this generation”. Like him or not, Miike can pull off almost anything from surreal black comedies, brutal violence, disturbing terror, child-friendly fantasy films, philosophical drama and even mainstream appeal in his films. The man is a master of movement and visual flair. “CITY OF LOST SOULS” (aka. Hyoryu Gai, 2000) may well be his most romantic film to date--and NO, the director definitely has not yet made a sappy love story.
An odd couple; a Brazilian-Japanese, Mario (Teah) and a Chinese hairdresser, Kei (beauteous Michele Reis), unintentionally begins a downward spiral into hell. When Kei is about to be deported by Japanese authorities, Mario saves her in a daring rescue. Mario then hides her in Japan’s Brazilian quarter until they can secure passports so they can escape Japan. They’ll need money to do so, and they decide to steal money from the Yakuza but instead ends up selling cocaine. Now, with Ko (Mitsuhiro Oikawa) and Fushimi (Koji Kikkawa) hot on their trail, the two lovers embark on a nightmarish adventure….
Despite the film’s romantic undertone, Miike never sacrifices his usual entries of blood, dark comedy and bizarre visuals that made him famous. “City of Lost Souls” may not be as shocking as Miike’s “Dead Or Alive” and “Fudoh” but it is entertaining enough in its own unique way. The film has a very simple plot, but the film’s style and exaggerated manga-comic-book inspired sequences provides its entertainment value. The film also has its share of bizarre sequences, a cock-fight with chickens on steroids, hints of bestiality, and oddball characters that is the trademark of Japanese cinema. The film is very fast-paced and moves very quickly with the introduction of its characters. Surrealism is blended with its comic book-like sequences and it is definitely NOT your usual mediocre action film.
Although, the background of Mario and Kei’s relationship is underdeveloped which makes it rather difficult to form an attachment to them, the film overloads your brain with its imagery and characters. The film looks very cool and makes up for its simple premise. The characters are interesting enough and the dialogue is indeed “quippy” enough. “It’s a miracle--God is definitely Brazilian..” are some of the film’s humorous dialogue as quoted by a weird Brazilian radio commentator. Of course, it is no surprise that Miike would have Kei abused and beaten, Asian cinema isn’t at all too kind with its treatment of women onscreen. It is rather mild compared to Miike’s other films though. Surprisingly, the film has no sex or female nudity on display--they are hinted at but never shown on camera.
The most interesting characters I thought were Lucia (sexy Patricia Manterola) and the little girl, Carla. They weren’t as developed as Ko or Fushimi but I rather thought they served as the film’s spirit and our lovers’ conscience. The other supporting characters themselves represented different cultures in a common nation. There are subtle amounts of social commentary that no “race” or person is perfect, that each one relies on the other. One’s own sense of honor and dignity is what one should cling to.
The film has its stylish doses of gunplay that has the flair of “bullet ballet”. The helter-skelter gunfights have the heavy doses of style with the Miike splattering blood effects. There are also some displays of the Brazilian Martial Art Capoeira but this idea didn’t really fully develop. The film is also multi-lingual: Japanese, Portuguese, Mandarin and Russian is spoken in its proceedings. This is a good approach as it does emulate the idea of a “melting pot” of ethnicity in Japan.
“City of Lost Souls” is not your usual action film and it is definitely NOT for everybody. However, those two chickens fighting in a fight arena may be worth the price of the dvd. Imagine two chickens on steroids moving as Morpheus and Neo would in “The Matrix”. Takashi Miike’s film borders on being odd and bizarre and this film is no different. The great imagery and camerawork is definitely the film’s strength and further cements his position as a “master of movement" and "escapist cinema”. (it is odd that America sees Miike more as a “master of horror”) Takashi Miike is a maestro of cinema but truth be told, his movies are more than most people can manage to understand and see.
Recommended for fans of Japanese cinema [3 ½ Stars]
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