Posted: 02/12/2005

 

White-Collar Worker Kintaro

(1999)

by Ben Beard



This DVD is available for purchase at HKFlix.com.


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Delving into the unseen world of government construction contracts and Japanese municipal politics, White-Collar Worker follows all-around nice guy Kintaro—mid-level employee to a large construction company—as he navigates corruption and violence and relationships, while carrying around a shameful past.

Here’s a company man who stings.

Sent to work in a distant suburb, Kintaro dutifully begins work for a mean drunken has been named Igo, who happens to be proficient at kung fu and is uninterested in anything beyond playing Mah Jongg with the boys.

In the first twenty minutes Kintaro saves an executive from young punks, wins a three-legged race with his son, takes a beating from his new boss, and saves a baby from a burning building.

And that’s just the beginning.

Balancing work responsibilities with the care of his young son, Kintaro every day takes the train to the distant suburb. But his stubbornly inactive boss leaves Kintaro to pursue building contracts on his own. Unknown to Kintaro, his company Yamato is under siege by sleazy mobsters looking to consolidate the Japanese construction business. Kintaro’s good intentions to further Yamato business without any guidance are thwarted. When he stumbles onto corruption involving public monies, he refuses to back down.

As the issue becomes public, a group of henchmen arrive to make Kintaro an offer he can’t refuse. Soon, Kintaro realizes he must return to his old ways to save his family, his company, and his life.

In many ways a throwback to the non-hard-boiled American dramas of the fifties and sixties, White-Collar Worker offers a little bit of everything. There’s a little laughter; there’s a little melodrama; there’s a little action; there’s a little intrigue. All wrapped up in a nice little bundle. The story of Kintaro, constructed like a Dickens novel with dozens of characters, offers up a hero you can cheer for.

In the U.S., Kintaro would be Babbitt; in Japan, he kicks serious ass.

Rebel filmmaker Takashi Miike discards his violent obsessions to deliver a solid well-put-together little film. The rushed chop sockey third act aside, White-Collar Worker delivers.

The only major drawbacks involve cultural issues. Kintaro is a television character with cartoons and comics and a large background that Japanese audiences understand. Sometimes it’s clear that there are chunks to the story we don’t know. Second, Japanese municipal politics are displayed with no exposition. This is fine if you are Japanese, but a little confusing to the western viewers. Ultimately, however, Kintaro is too much fun to be sidetracked by either.

Perhaps only Japan and America believe enough in the free market system to hold up a mid-sized corporation as the victim, its fat cat administrator as a saint, and a mid-level executive as its hero. Under this libertarian paradigm, the government is corrupt; the unions controlled by gangsters; the police in the pocket of thugs.

Satirical or not, White-Collar Worker offers up a bona fide hero, someone you can cheer for, the story of a great man struggling to forge a new life for himself while escaping his violent past, in an oddball but supremely enjoyable saga.

Ben Beard is a film and music critic living in Chicago.



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