In a world where American ghettos are cool (muthafucka) and the slums of Europe are somehow romantic, it’s nice to see that somewhere else other than Britain has to put up with good old-fashioned, cretinous, estate riffraff. In Nostalgia, Takashi Miike takes a look at the early days of Young Thug Riichi Nakaba (his teenage years are documented in 1997’s Young Thugs: Innocent Blood). Lumbered with the dysfunctional family to end all dysfunctional families, it’s hardly surprising he grew up to become the monster he did. His father is a perfect example of an imperfect parent. He gambles, he’s pissed all the time. When he’s not beating up Riichi’s mother, he’s beating up his (female) teacher. He farts a lot and leaves the toilet door open when he’s emptying his guts. He even brings home strippers to spend the night with him, and expects Mrs Nakaba to cook her breakfast in the morning. It seems that the only person who can tame him is Riichi’s grandfather – his chosen method of control is to stick a broomstick up his ass – and yes, it does come complete with sound effects!
Not exactly a story as such, with neither beginning nor end, Nostalgia gives us a look at 1969 through Riichi’s eyes. Not yet corrupted by the world around him, Miike treats him much more sympathetically than the Riichi of Innocent Blood, although his life is nearly as depressing. Not quite though – here at least Riichi does have a couple of productive moments in his life – the main one being building a life-size model of the Apollo 11 moonlander which earns him and his pals a box of paints. It’s enough to bring a tear to sentimental eyes like mine. Though Nostalgia doesn’t really end on a high note – as 1969 becomes 1970, Riichi finally becomes a man – and kicks his father’s head in.
Nostalgia also introduces us to a couple of other characters from Innocent Blood. First of all the tab-smoking, flat-cap wearing Kotetsu – Riichi’s best mate – and also Sada, who is already one of his worst enemies. Like Innocent Blood, Nostalgia also has a moment of arty surrealism, but it’s even more embarrassing than the first – this one involves flying to the moon during a wank. I didn’t know where to put myself, I really didn’t! It has to be said though, the opening credits’ use of scratchy black-and-white film depicting Riichi’s birth, set to farcical, old-fashioned music is quite inspired. Miike cannot keep his sick humour out of here either; prepubescent schoolboys sexually assaulting their teacher for a look at her “hairy, black-parts” played for laughs is sure to put a frown on some old frump’s face - more conservative viewers are sure to elicit fond chuckles as they watch the boys shoplifting and even tearing off a house's corrugated iron wall while the owner is eating inside .
Nostalgia is apparently Takashi Miike’s favourite film, and one can see that he’s put quite a lot into it even if much of the symbolism here is not quite apparent to the casual viewer - nor the informed one, come to think of it. I would say that Miike definitely identifies with novelist Riichi Nakaba (which is why the fact that this is Miike’s favourite film is, I think, of no consequence to the viewer). Reading Nakaba’s novel would definitely help the viewer understand the movie a little better, maybe even appreciate a little more, too. Innocent Blood is a much better film – personally, I feel that this really only of interest to a small proportion of those who’ve seen and enjoyed that.
Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.