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Fantastic Fest 2022: Bad City Review

September 25, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Bad City Image Credit: Rights Cube
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Fantastic Fest 2022: Bad City Review  

Directed by: Kensuke Sonomura
Written by: Hitoshi Ozawa

Hitoshi Ozawa – Makoto Torada
Sakanoue Akane – Nohara
Katsuya – Kumamoto
Masanori Mimoto – Nishizaki
Mitsu Dan – Kaori Koizumi
Tak Sakiguchi – Han
Lily Franky – Wataru Gojo
Rino Katase – Madam
Masaya Kato – Kenji Hirayama

Image Credit: Rights Cube

Running Time: 118 minutes

Hitoshi Ozawa is a legend of the Japanese direct-to-video “V-Cinema” industry. Perhaps best known as Satake in Takashi Miike’s 1999 action flick Dead or Alive, the actor has a career dating back 40 years, cutting a memorable figure in action films. He’s worked with legends in the Japanese action scene from Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura to Takeshi Kitano while also serving as a force behind the scenes as both writer and director.

And even at the age of 60, Ozawa is still kicking ass. The latest example of that is Bad City, which memorably mixes a noir-esque tale of deep city corruption with a back half of high-energy action scenes. The film, which was just picked up for distribution by Well Go USA, brought its engaging balance of twisty plot and fisticuffs to Fantastic Fest on Saturday with plenty of entertainment to spare.

Bad City is set in Kaito City, where things aren’t looking great as corruption and crime are commonplace occurrences. It goes all the way to the top, where business tycoon Wataru Gojo (Lily Franky) has just been acquitted of several crimes thanks to his connections with the mayor, prosecutor general, and police chief.

But Gojo’s acquittal comes at the same time as a slaughter of Yakuza at a bath house, a crime that gives prosecutor Hirayama (Masaya Kato) the chance to take action against him. As Gojo makes a run for mayor, Hirayami organizes a special investigation team consisting of veteran investigators Kumamoto and Nishizaki, as well as newbie detective Nohara. The final piece comes with Makoto Torada (Ozawa), former violent crime investigator who is serving time for an apparently false murder conviction.

It doesn’t take long for the special investigations team to get caught up in the underworld web, particularly since Torada’s past is tightly woven in those strands. As violence continues to spill into the streets and begins to center on the foursome, it becomes increasingly uncertain if they will be able to escape with their lives, much less catch Gojo.

With Bad City, director Kensuke Sonomura is working off a dense script by Ozawa. The film has a dizzying number of competing forces working against our protagonists, complicated by shifting alliances and the requisite betrayals. It’s a testament to Sonomura’s skill that he’s able to keep the plot from being too overwhelming. While Ozawa’s script could be much clearer at delineating the various motivations in play, the film does a solid job of papering those cracks over with Sonomura’s eye for storytelling and action.

The action does a lot of heavy lifting in particular, though that isn’t a surprise; Sonomura’s background is in stunt work and his first feature film, 2019’s Hydra, leaned hard in that direction. But it’s also not a film that lags when Torada and his crew aren’t beating people up, thanks in no small part to the performances. Ozawa adopts a cool, cynical demeanor that fits his charisma well, and the dynamics between his three comrades are a lot of fun thanks to solid work from Sakanoue Akane, Katsuya, and Masanori Mimoto. The supporting cast also turns in memorable performances, from Rino Katase as a Korean crime boss with a particular hatred for Torada to Tak Sakiguchi, delivering bloody death as a silent assassin for the bad guys.

As solid as the noir is, it’s the action that truly sets this one apart. The fight scenes are brutal, hard-hitting and thrillingly shot, set in such diverse locations as an apartment building balcony, a fishery, and the aforementioned bathhouse. While the feel of martial arts fights certainly pops up, particularly when Sakigushi enters the fray, these are more fittingly street battles with pipes, knives, and knuckles and they deliver exactly what we’d want from this kind of flick.

On the downside, there is a sense of the plot being a bit too overstuffed from time to time. A subplot involving a reporter friend of Nohara’s seems extremely unnecessary, or at least given too much time, and some of the backstory seems perfunctory at best. For those of us who know their crime noir stories well, most of the surprises will not be particularly surprising. But it’s hard to be too mad at these things when the performances are as good as they are, and when the action scenes keep things thrilling. Ultimately, as a film that feels very much like a tribute to Ozawa’s career, it acquits itself well and hits its beats pretty solidly along the way.

Fantastic Fest takes place in person from September 22nd through the 29th, and @Home from September 29th through October 4th.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Well-acted and filled with great action scenes, Bad City serves as an effective vehicle for Hitoshi Ozawa's lead stylish performance. Ozawa's script hits enough of the noir sweet spots to keep things moving and director Kensuke Sonomura delivers some fantastic, bone-crunching fight scenes along the way. If you're a fan of hard-boiled crime stories and gritty action brawls, this is a film to add to your watchlist.