Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) Review

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Shinjuku Triad Society was not only one of Asian auteur Takashi Miike’s first features not made for the direct-to-video world of “V-cinema” in Japan but it was also the first in his Black Society Trilogy which is now available from Arrow Video along with its other parts Rainy Dog and Ley Lines in one brilliant box set.

Miike is most famous outside Japan for his extreme horrors such as the chilling and controversial Ichi the Killer and the spectacularly scary Audition. His trademark excessive violence and crazed characters run throughout his films whatever the genre from insane action thriller Dead or Alive to even crazier musical comedy horror The Happiness of the Katakuris and both these things are evident even in Shinjuku Triad Society which opens on the discovery of a severed head in an alley way and gets weirder and wilder from there on in.

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The head belongs to a Yakuza gangster killed by the head of rising Triad gang Wang (Tetsuo, the Iron Man star Tomorowo Taguchi) a maniacal power hungry killer working his way towards running Tokyo who has no respect for the Japanese’s gangsters in his way to achieving that goal being that he was born in Taiwan.2

Wang’s heritage is something he shares with mixed-race cop Kiriya who is assigned to the case and who becomes obsessed with bringing down the psychotic gang lord doing whatever it takes to capture him, even breaking the law by beating and abusing Wang’s associates.

This is just the start however as both men become more determined to succeed in their disparate and perpetually more dangerous pursuits pushing the limits and destroying everything around them till their final violent confrontation at the films blood soaked climax.

High on violence be it verbal, sexual or physical Takashi Miike’s visceral style of cinema forces you to inhabit the seedy and corrupt setting of Shinjuku Triad Society, Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood. Exposing and reveling in the dark side of not only the criminal underworld controlling the streets but the uncaring and uncontrollable police who are just as brutal and nasty when it comes to enforcing their law over any other the film paints a grey world where good and evil simply don’t exist only desperate survival and unkempt desire.

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Drugs, prostitution, eye ball gouging and lots of sex both consensual and non- make Shinjuku Triad Society a hard film to watch at times and although the characters often move towards cartoonish caricatures there is a grit and realism that grounds the film never allowing the abundance of violence and rape to be glamourised.

Along the way the film also attempts to discuss the prejudices Japanese culture and society has against outsiders born of different heritages. Both Wang and Kiriya are mistreated and suffer racism and this drives them to succeed whatever the cost.

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For fans of Takashi Miike unaware of his early work as well as connoisseurs of Japanese cinema this is a must see set of films but it will also appeal to anyone looking for a different take on the usual format for gang war movies being as it offers up a vision of Tokyo only Miike could have created.

Movie Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

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