One of Miike's earliest works, Young Thugs: Innocent Blood is a semi-biographical look at the life of the director set in the small fishing town of Kishiwada, Osaka. The first part of a sequeled series, Innocent Blood follows the lives of a group of teenagers for one year after graduating from high school as they try to assimilate into society the best way they know how.
From the opening sequence, Miike sets the tone with his usual style of antics as Ryoko, Riichi, Yuji and Kotestsu set their teacher up for a major prank and robbery just before graduation. The intro is littered with photo stills of the group pulling off other antics and leads into a scene where Ryoko is cutting off her hair and breaking up with her one love, Riichi. Jumping timeframes (from Summer to Winter, then back to Summer) Miike outlines the somewhat tragic lives of these four troubled teens as they face the adversity of joining society after carelessness is left behind at high school graduation.
Focusing mainly on Riichi and Ryoko, Innocent Blood details the bond between the four individuals and how the aforementioned duo's relationship disintegration affects the friendships of those around them. Spending nearly all of high school with Ryoko, Riichi becomes "bored" with her lifestyle patterns and seeks the affection of a hooker to ease the transaction between juvenile and maturity. Unfortunately, when Ryoko and Yuji witness Riichi's advances on the hooker, the friendships between the 4 main characters break apart and each individual is left alone to cope with the hardships of "growing up".
Innocent Blood is aptly titled, as throughout the movie many fisfights and bludgeonings occur involving Riichi and rival personalities in the small town. Repeated beatings on familiar faces are handed out, however, the tide quickly turns on Riichi once he loses his friends and attempts to live a peaceful and non-violent lifestyle to impress his hooker girlfriend. The familiar faces, once bloodied by Riichi's fists now take advantage of his reluctancy to fight and pummel him to near death on several occasions. However, as Riichi matures, he begins to understand that what goes around comes around, not only with your enemies, but loved ones too. Spiraling into a deep depression, Riichi makes a last attempt to salvage his friendship with Ryoko, Yuji and Kotetsu.
The most successful aspect of Innocent Blood is that the characters are very real and true to life - each has significant weaknesses and doubts about their character. Miike receives great performances from all four leads to make the experience of Innocent Blood very authentic, almost as if it weren't a movie, but a familiar group of people that you could relate to and interact with. The comedy, violence and friendships are flawlessly displayed as if none of the film was scripted and that cameras just followed the characters around through their daily routines. Once again, Takashi Miike shows his talents for captivating an audience and drawing them into the story, rather than painting a picture for display.
To add to an already magnificent film, ArtsMagic loads the Innocent Blood DVD with the extras that fans of the company have come to expect - a detailed interview with Miike, the original trailer for the film and a piece on the history and culture of Osaka Japan. Much like many of the films released by ArtsMagic, the film is beautifully presented in anamorphic widescreen with either a 2.0 or 5.1 surround sound track.
I don't think I can emphasize how great a director Takashi Miike is. Versatile and talented are understatements when assessing this man's film career, and Innocent Blood is yet another triumphant example of this. ArtsMagic delivers once again with a stellar Miike film that would have otherwise not been available to those of us hardcore fans in the US.