For some ungodly reason, I had never laid eyes upon Takashi Miike’s first films which make up the Black Society Trilogy until this past week. Sure, I’ve made it a point to see early films like Audition and Ichi the Killer and I’ve even kept up with his career to his much larger commercial films like Zebraman and his remake of 13 Assassins, but never made it around to witnessing the likes of Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog and Ley Lines. The films have shown some age, but yet manage to encapsulate what makes Miike such an interesting director. While the films have been out of print for a few years now, leave it to Arrow Video to manage to re-release them in a new Blu-Ray set that is sure to please old fans and gain new ones for Miike’s work.
The first film in the series, Shinjuku Triad Society, was his very first film in Cinemas in Japan. All of his other work was either done for TV or direct to video, hence the term V-Cinema. Released in 1995, Shinjuku Triad Society stars Kippei Shiina, as a police detective trying to crackdown on gang violence in Tokyo. In the process of shaking things up, he finds out that his own brother who’s studying to be a lawyer, has partnered with the Triad boss, in order to make his business legitimate on Yakuza turf. In Rainy Dog, a hitman by the name of Yuuji, played by the legendary Show Aikawa, is currently living in Taiwan after being expelled from the yakuza. He acts as a hitman for hire for the local Triad mobsters in town, but after an old flame drops off his illegitimate son, he tries to retire and live his own life. The final film in the spiritual trilogy is Ley Lines, is about two youths of Chinese descent, who eventually find their way to Shinjuku, in order to find meaning and purpose in modern day Japan.
Each film accomplishes something different, but what’s beautiful about the Black Society Trilogy is that it displays a level of growth for Miike with each subsequent film. It is a series about outsiders, much like Miike himself and while he draws on the legacies of filmmakers like Shohei Imamura and Kinji Fukasaku, Miike’s presentation of narrative filmmaking is uniquely his own. I enjoyed all three films very much, but Shinjuku Triad Society shows its age pretty poorly. The music and the pacing of the film feel youthful and amateurish, but it’s still brimming with plenty of energy and engaging story, that make it all the worthwhile. While that can be said about the first film, it is in both Rainy Dog and Ley Lines that manage to make full use of Miike’s humor, action and overall sense of style that imbue both works with a sense of richness.
The Blu-Ray presentation for Arrow Video’s release of the Black Society Trilogy is some of the best that these films have to offer, even though it’s a fraction of what’s on other Arrow Video sets. The films are presented in an AVC-encoded, 1080p HD transfer, with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. There are moments where each of the films look incredible and other times where the film grain integrity is extremely prominent. For any other set of films, this might be unforgivable, but in the sense that these are Grindhouse type films and the films are situated on the outskirts of Japanese society, the transfers do just as an important job at delivering the story in the perfect way. The audio on the disc comes in an uncompressed PCM Stereo mic in the original Japanese language, as well as full length commentaries by film critic Tom Mes. The stereo mixes sound pretty great and present a good amount of dynamics, as well as spatial reference in the smaller mix.
The other extras on the disc are lengthy interviews with both Takashi Miike and actor Show Aikawa. The Miike interview is extremely through and gets him to speak on both his career thus far, as well as give insightful detail on what went into the making of the Black Triad Society films. The Show Aikawa interview is pretty funny and speaks of both his work in the trilogy, as well as working with Miike in general.
Whether you’ve come to enjoy a Takashi Miike film from the likes of Ichi The Killer or his more recent fare in 13 Assassins, this boxed set from Arrow Video is sure to please fans both old and new and gives these films the proper treatment they deserve. Highly Recommended!