A fan of both Kinji Fukasaku’s Yakuza films and the Pinku eiga genra (porn), one-time college dropout Rokuro Mochizuki brings the standard Yakuza shoot-em-up into the post modern age with Another Lonely Hitman. In a career spanning both sensual and violent genres, and some 100+ screenplays under his belt, Mochizuki’s work evokes both the hard-as-nails ultra-violence of Takashi Miike and the soft sexuality of erotic cinema into a gripping, beautiful, violent, and redemptive story of hitman Tachibana’s return to society after a 10 year stint in prison for the assassination of rival Yakuza boss.
But like in Fukasaki’s film “Sympathy for the Underdog” the world has changed while Tachibana’s languishes in the big house. The Yakuza is a business now, stretching out from traditional loan sharking, prostitution, and gambling into dope dealing, hard-core porn video rental, and money laundering. Harder for Tachibana to accept is the rules and norms to which he’d pledged his earlier life are gone. Replaced with an air of respectability and civility to which he cannot become accustomed.
Tachibana falls for a young prostitute, Yuki (Asami Sawaki), in and of herself a host of problems as she is attached to the ruling gang through her pimp. When Tachibana beats the ever loving shit out of the pimp (he was roughing up Yuki) it causes a ripple in the otherwise normal gangland world. Tachibana is not only disgraced, but his boss is as well.
To save face Tachibana and his new protégé begin working low-level collection jobs for their boss, a man believed to be holding Tachibana’s “gifts”, several hundred thousand Yen ear marked for him for his stint in the slammer.
The big-big boss Shumoyama of the ruling Hiyakama family starts playing the smaller gangs against one another over turf, dope, and gambling, Tachibana loses his taste for the world he realizes has passed him by, and a world to which he cannot adapt. Meanwhile the lesser bosses are working outside the family structure (one wants to create a golf course another wants to corner the heroin market) and trampling over each other and the other bosses. When Tachibana starts making trouble (unwittingly as he doesn’t know where the junkies are coming from) it isn’t long before the bosses try and rein him in.
Struggling to clean Yuki of her heroin addiction (Tachibana was also a junkie before his prison term), and maneuver himself out of the gritty lowlife world of the Yakuza.
Insulted and disgraced, Tachibana wants out. But you can’t just walk away from organized crime.
Mochizuki has managed to create a film that both extols the honor and traditional of the Yakuza as well as present a character that, while we cannot identify with him in depth, can certainly understand his melancholy. Ryo Ichibashi as Tachibana is a master of understated rage. He speaks softly, slowly, and rarely, as if the words are bubbling up from deep inside his angry soul. And when he releases it, usually on junkies and dope dealers working in his organization’s turf, he is relentless, brutal, and vicious.
The supporting characters are no less enigmatic. Tachibana’s partner, Yuri, assigned to keep an eye on him by the boss, both fears and idolizes his charge. A much younger student of the new way of the Yakuza struggles briefly to understand the eminent brutality of his new friend.
Yuki is damaged and we get to witness throws of her heroin kick as she grown to both appreciate and love Tachibana irrespective of her pain. She wanted to be a singer but was duped by a pimp into a life of outcall service at the Lolita Club. Her dope-sick rampages make up the middle third of the film and add an air of immediacy to the story. We all know that Tachibana’s story will not end happily. Crime films of this nature rarely do so it’s almost a race to see if he can turn Yuki around before his inevitable date with destiny. Tachibana knows this too, and when he extricates himself from the Yakuza lifestyle in the final act and takes Yuki to the sea (a place of deep meaning for Tachibana) and sets his affairs in order, you can see his primary effort was to atone for his actions by setting Yuki straight.
The script by Yukio Yamaguchi is tight and efficient with only a few tangential conversations that offer more depth and dimension to the characters, as it meanders along towards the climax.
The soundtrack evokes Taxi Driver, no doubt an influence to both Yamaguchi and Mochizuki, with subtle saxophone and piano that lingers in the atmosphere like the ghosts of Tachibana’s violent past.
This is not truly a film noir, as it is marketed, as much of it takes place in the bright light of day, and it is not a woman that manipulates the main character into making a series of increasingly stupid decisions (see Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice for good examples of noir film making) but circumstance. While this is no detriment to the story it does take some of the power away from the Yuki character. She is more of an add on, a passive motivation if you will, who becomes important only in the Tachibana wants to save her. In that respect she resembles Mathilda from Luc Besson’s “Leon: The Professional”.
While not as gory and violent as many Yakuza films, but significantly deeper, Another Lonely Hitman is a great 104 minutes of melancholy life in the dark depths of the Tokyo underworld.
ArtsMagic releases Another Lonely Hitman in 16x9 anamorphic widescreen in original Japanese (2.1 and 5.1 Dolby) with English subs. The film also contains a very informative interview with director Rokuro Mochizuki, a commentary track with Japanese film expert Tom Mes, and biographies/filmographies of the director and principle cast members.
It’s a great package for a very good film.