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Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy Blu-Ray Review

February 3, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee
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Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy Blu-Ray Review  

Story: Three thematically-linked films following different characters as they are caught up in the Japanese underworld.

Takashi Miike is a filmmaker that’s best known for his brutally violent and bizarre films like Audition, Gozu, Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q. Before those memorable entries into his filmography, however, he directed a series of V-cinema (straight to video) crime films between 1995 and 1999. The Black Society Trilogy, as it was eventually called were three movies loosely connected by their themes and the occasional recurring actor (Shô Aikawa and Tomorowo Taguchi, among others).

The first of these was 1995’s Shinjuku Triad Society. It’s basically the tale of two brothers, separated by different lines of the law. Those lines begin to blur over the course of the film. One of them is a cop who wants to separate his brother from a Chinese triad, as he’s currently working as a lawyer for them. This is the kind of place that removes organs from kids and sells them on the black market, so you can imagine why someone wouldn’t want family involved with that. He’s also on the trail of the leader, Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi), who is a bit crazy.

Of the three, this is definitely the one most like Miike’s more controversial works. It has some really nasty stuff, like a woman’s eye being removed. It also has two scenes of rapes, a man and a woman, with both enjoying the act after it’s over. It’s something else to watch rape used as an interrogation tactic, only for a man to enjoy it and only give information when they stop. The film is the least of the three, although it’s by no means bad. The problem is mostly with the pacing and story, as it tends to jump from plot point to plot point with no real rhyme or reason.

The next film and arguably the best is Rainy Dog. Sho Aikawa plays a hitman who is suddenly forced to take care of a son he didn’t know he had. At first he treats the boy like the titular dog, but their bond grows over the film. This happens even as he has to take his son and a prostitute with him on the run from those seeking revenge for one of his targets. He’s also got to deal with a bumbling hitman (Tomorowo Taguchi) who has spent years trying and failing to catch him.

Rainy Dog is mostly character driven and it benefits a lot from that. There are some decent action bits, but it’s the relationship between Yuuji, Lilly and the boy. They start out as three strangers and eventually grow into a sort of makeshift family. Aikawa plays his role beautifully, as you start out hating him for the way he’s treating his own son, but eventually want to see the two reunited and safe. Miike does an excellent job building up the characters and their relationships to draw the audience in. This is definitely a different film from what someone who saw, say, Visitor Q might expect from him.

The last in the “trilogy” is Ley Lines, in which two brothers and their friend (Tomorowo Taguchi, again) who begin to sell drugs for a crime organization in pursuit of the means to finally escape their poor lives and all of Japan. Along they way they befriend a prostitute Anita (Dan Li) who tags along to get away from her life, as they come up with one last scheme to get the money they need and go.

Ley Lines is another decent, if slightly by-the-numbers crime movie. The disenfranchised youth getting in over their heads with crime story has been done before, but it all matters in how you do it. In this case, it’s once again the relationships between the three and their new friend Anita that really sell it and make the audience care. This movie also tries a bit more humor than the first two films, which only adds to the grim moments that come later.

While it’s obvious that the themes of crimes and innocence lost are common throughout the three films, I think the biggest theme attached to all three is that of escape. In all three films the characters either want to escape or help others to escape their harsh lives. It’s a theme more prevalent in the last two than the first, which may be why those two films work better. Although none of the films take a very hopeful approach to the idea, implying that the underworld will suck up and destroy anyone who comes into contact with it.

Overall, it’s a decent trilogy of films. If you can only watch one, then definitely see Rainy Dog. The quality level of the other two will depend on your taste and how into this style of movie you are. It’s definitely an interesting set, because it allows Miike fans to get a taste of his earlier work that they might not see if they’re only into the big movies like Audition or Ichi.

Films: 7.0

All three movies are given an LPCM 2.0 Stereo transfer and sound decent enough. The audio is in Japanese, obviously, occasionally switching to other languages like Chinese and even English. There’s no real complaints here. It sounds clear and balanced, which is all you can ask for.

Audio: 7.0

This trilogy is presented AVC-encoded transfers with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The problem with these films is that they were shot for video, so the transfer’s not going to be immaculate. That said, all three films look good, although they are noticeably softer at times than other films of this era. It does, at times, look slightly fuzzy, but only sticklers for great video quality are going to care.

Video: 6.5

Special Features

Audio Commentary: Miike biographer Tom Mes provides the commentary for all three movies. While they can tend to get on the dry side, Mes definitely knows his stuff and gives a lot of insight into these films and Miike’s overall career.

Into the Black: This is the best feature on the set, as it’s a 45-minute interview with Miike himself. It mostly covers his start and early days in film but he touches on a lot of other subjects as well.

Stray Dog, Lone Wolf: A 22-minute interview with Sho Aikawa, who not only worked with Miike on Rainy Dog and Ley Lines, but movies like Gozu as well. He talks about their various collaborations and how he got involved.

The set also includes a trailer for each movie which give very little info in what each movie is about.

The set’s probably the best you can hope for with these kind of movies, although it still doesn’t offer a whole lot. All of the extras, outside of the commentaries, are contained on the second disc, as there weren’t many of them. That said, the interview with Miike is great and a must-watch for fans.

Special Features: 6.0

The final score: review Average
The 411
Takashi Miike's Black Society Trilogy won't be for everyone, but that can be said about most of his filmography. If you're looking at an early glimpse into his work, then this is definitely the set for you. Of the three, Rainy Dog is the one to watch, although your mileage may vary on the other two. Arrow Video's set has a decent transfer given the source material and a nice, if slim selection of extras. It's a fine set, but a must-grab for the hardcore Miike fans.