Monday, December 15, 2008

The Man in White (Takashi Miike, 2003)

Kazuki Kitamura, Tatsuya Fuji, Masaya Kato, Renji Ishibashi and Ryosuke Miki in Takashi Miike's The Man in White (2003).

When Azusa (Masaya Kato) is a kid he sees his father being murdered by his older stepbrother, Serita (Tatsuya Fuji). Now, as a yakuza, Azusa has another run in with his brother when Serita shows up and kills Azusa's boss, his new father, leaving Azusa as the only one alive. Azusa throws all sense of loyalty to the wind and goes off to avenge his boss and hunt down Serita and anyone involved in the conspiracy to kill his boss.

While the story is simple, it's Miike's execution that sets it apart from other films in the same genre. His characters are yakuza and live by the code, but only as long as it really suits them. The Man in White is filled with over the top characters but they have human feelings which make them seem more real than the more traditional yakuza characters you see in a lot of films. They are criminals, and there are no excuses, Azusa is the film's main character, but he is a killer, and his actions sets off a lot of unnecessary killings just so that he can get his will done. He is no hero even if his cause might seem noble. The same goes for his friend, Mizutani (Kazuki Kitamura), who's along for the ride. Serita and his buddy, the drug addicted alcoholic Sakazaki (Renji Ishibashi) are purely in it for their own gain, loyalty and honor are nothing more than words for them.

The darkness in Miike's characters put them closer, in my opinion, to those of Rokuro Mochizuki's films, where yakuzas often are crazy drug addicts who have trouble staying within the bounds of the yakuza code, simply because they are human. There probably are other filmmakers who also make their yakuza films like this (I'd like to say Fukasaku in Graveyard of Honor (1975), but it's been so long since I watched it), but I haven't seen anyone yet who does it as convincing as Miike. In The Man in White he constructs a world where everything the characters do is believable. Or maybe it's just easier to relate and believe in someone going crazy because of emotions and human weakness than going on a killing spree out of principle. This is one of Miike's finest yakuza efforts.