Gonin [The Five]
by Del Harvey
Five desperate men plot to steal a large sum of money from the local Yakuza in what is either a perfect crime or a death wish.
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Gonin opens with a nightmare sequence which turns out to be a mild foreshadowing of events to come. A man awakens in a strange place, wanders through a maze of doors until he is outside in the dark, rainy night, stumbling towards some indistinguishable sounds which turn out to be a young man beating another man with an aluminum baseball bat. Coming upon the scene, the young man turns and presses a thin knife point to the waking man’s eye.
When our main character, Bandai, awakens, he steps outside to find a dark and rainy night. Not only that, but the very man being beaten in his dream is standing in the parking lot with an aluminum bat, beating on Bandai’s car. Bandai calms the man and even gives him a ride. The man is nicely dressed in a suit and tie, but his glasses are broken and he does not seem to care. He insists on coming with Bandai to his club. At the club they find several Yakuza dancing with the go-go girls on stage and almost no one else in the club. A quarrel ensues when Bandai attempts to get the gangsters to leave, and the little man with the baseball bat wades in, making things worse. Salvation appears in the form of the lone customer, a man of dubious appearance whom everyone takes, at first, for a woman. He is Mitsuya, the young man in the nightmare wielding the knife. He wounds one of the Yakuza and they take off. Then he goes with Bandai to his private suite of offices upstairs, where he quickly strips naked and jumps in the shower, coyly teasing Bandai to join him.
Events spiral outward from this point, and two more, equally desperate characters join this misbegotten crew: Jimmy, related to the Yakuza leader but clearly not on the same plane as most of us, and a down on his luck ex-cop. After robbing the Yakuza, the five hide in plain sight, refusing to believe the Yakuza would think them capable of such actions.
The Yakuza are smarter than that, and sense something in Jimmy’s attitude which causes them to focus in on him. They torture him and rape and kill his girl, and learn about one of the others in the process. As they track this unlikely gang, the head Yakuza determines that an example must be set, and sends for two infamous hit men, one of whom is played by popular Japanese star Takeshi Beat Kitano.
Gonin is an intense neo-noir photographed in dark, wet neon colors like some gaudy main street gone to seed. Against this palette is thrown a crazy story of improbable characters taking part in dangerous and unlikely activities with disastrous results. Surprises multiply as the story unfolds and we are given glimpses into another aspect of our five character’s lives. Sexuality and stereotypes are shattered, and violence becomes synonymous with survival in this off-beat thriller which deceives any audience preconceptions. The film is haunting and memorable, and ultimately much more than your average suspense film.
Directed and written by Takashi Ishii, Gonin may not be for everyone. But for those who like films that challenge your ideas of film noir, of human drama, then rent Gonin.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of FM. He currently lives in Southern California, is a devout Chicago Bears fan, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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