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Gonin (1995)

The Five

A quirky, moody tale of crime and masculinity.

Directed by:

Takashi Ishii

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: Japan

When the financial bubble burst in Japan, there were widespread tragic repercussions. Businesses were damaged or destroyed, jobs were lost, family stability was shaken, and the yakuza circled like ravenous sharks, moving in to steal, extort and threaten wherever they smelt the slightest whiff of vulnerability. Takashi Ishii's 'Gonin' is an unusual thriller with a social conscience, focussing on a variety of Japanese males whose lives have been ruined, directly or indirectly, by the recession and its consequences.

Bandai (Koichi Sato) is a once successful nightclub owner who is now in hock to the local yakuza for far more yen than he can afford. Under pressure from the gangsters to kill himself, he decides on a form of suicide that would bring a certain satisfaction – to rob the yakuza in their own office. Soon he has assembled a crew of four similarly disgruntled no-hopers: Mitsuya (Masahiro Motoki), a cross-dressing blackmailer in trouble with one of the yakuza; Hizu (Jinpachi Nezu), a tough ex-cop whose career and marriage were destroyed by the yakuza; Jimmy (Kippei Shiina), whose Thai girlfriend has been retained by the yakuza as a prostitute; and Ogiwara (Naoto Takenaka), a downsized salaryman too ashamed to reveal his unemployment to his family. In the aftermath of their daring raid, yakuza boss Ogoshi (Toshiyuki Nagashima) hires sadistic one-eyed hitman Kyoya (famed director Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano) and his boyfriend to hunt down the perpetrators, leading to a series of violent, tragic confrontations.

While money is pursued by everyone in the film, it soon emerges that the real currency in question is honour, as the characters seek a chance to live, and more importantly to die, in a manner that conforms to their damaged sense of manhood. The recurrent motifs of transvestitism, homosexuality, estrangement from wife and children, and personal humiliation and alienation, all point to the crisis in traditional masculinity at the core of this film, which Bandai and his downbeaten associates seek to redress in one last stand of hopeless heroism.

Far from being a straight action thriller, 'Gonin' is a contemplative, lugubrious piece, whose characters, both hunters and hunted, all share a sense of inferiority and a desperate weariness with their circumstances. The inevitable trajectory of their action towards death lends the film a tone of sombre tragedy. The plot is sometimes highly elliptical, interweaving its reality with dreams and ghostly hallucinations, and often leaving events (like the brutal murder of Ogiwara's family) unexplained until much later. The film's stylised, noirish look, dominated by lurid neon reds and blues, forms the perfect backdrop for the equally stylised violence, which transforms exchanges of gunfire into something dreamlike and melancholy.

So 'Gonin' is one-of-a-kind – or it would be, had Ishii not gone on to make a sequel in which the five men are replaced by five women.

It's Got: Quirky characters, moving deaths and a haunting air of resignation.

It Needs: An upturn in the economy.

DVD Extras An optional widescreen version of the film, the original trailer (plus more Tokyo Bullet trailers), a gallery of stills and posters, filmographies for the five stars and filmographies with biographies for Takashi Ishii and Takeshi Beat Kitano. There is no audio commentary. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

Sonatine, The Wild Bunch, Things to Do in Denver When Youre Dead

Summary

A quirky, moody tale of crime and masculinity in crisis in post-recession Japan, with a scene-stealing performance from Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano.

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