Takashi Miike is a devisive director. He’s spent his very prolific career cranking out hyper violent cheap yakuza films, bizarre and often highly disgusting personal films, dramas, a musical, family fantasy films, and high class respectable art cinema. He’s had a varied career to say the list. Best known for Audition, Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins, and The Great Yokai War, Shinjuku Triad Society is an early effort. Though that’s relative when it comes to Miike. He may have only been making films for 4 years at this point, but Shinjuku Triad Society is his 13th film. To date he’s made 100 films and is still going strong. It’s an ugly film that gives a glimpse of the depravity he would be known for in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
Shinjuku Triad Society is about the invasion of criminal elements from Taiwan. They’ve come to make money any way they can in Japan including drug dealing, prostitution, assassination, and organ harvesting. Kiriya is a detective in Japan. He’s the son of a Japanese man orphaned in China during the war. He’s a “half breed” and can speak mandarin. This means he gets crap from Japanese people and Chinese, but he’s a good person to investigate the Triad activities due to his ability to understand both Chinese and Japanese culture and language. His younger brother Yoshihito is training to become a lawyer when he works with Wang, a psycho gang leader, as his defense attorney. Turned on to the criminal world he vanishes into the underground of dark dealings. Kiriya has one mission: investigate Wang so he can bring him down and bring his brother home, away from the criminal world.
Shinkjuku Triad Society is bleak. It features brief flourishes of the sadism seen in Miike’s later work. I won’t spoil it for you but there’s some Miike style carnage sprinkled throughout the film. The movie also features several homosexual characters who act up on their orientation graphically in the film. Again, is this commentary or just Miike pushing buttons in ’95? Miike seems to love making his audience feel uncomfortable and outraged so that could be the case here or perhaps he was trying, in a ham fisted way, to comment on homosexuality. The film doesn’t flow or wrap up as one might expect. The film meanders as we meet a variety of degenerate characters who work for the gangs doing their dirty work. From a plotting standpoint the film doesn’t hit the “sweet spots” we’ve come to expect from gangster films. This itself is frustrating for the viewer as it seems like Miike is withholding on the genre staples to avoid following convention as well as once again, pushing the audience’s buttons.
Visually the film looks great. Shot on film, it gives a rare peek into Japan and Taiwan during that era. Arrow, who never skimps on restoration, has done a great job with this film. It looks great and i highly doubt it’s ever looked better or will ever look better.
Overall Shinjuku Triad Society is an interesting early effort that beings to show the future promise of Miike. It’s dreary, grimy, and shocking, even now. While not a perfect film, for Miike fans, it’s a solid film in a rather patchy filmography. If you’re new to Miike’s films, I would recommend seeking out his better known films first. For yakuza fans, the film bucks convention enough to make it a worthy addition to a collection striving for unique films.