“Who’d date a girl that doesn’t try to hide her horn?” Wow! With a line like that you may be conned into thinking that this is some sort of Thai porno flick, but in fact it’s a work by Japanese auteur and Iggy Pop lookalike Takashi Miike and based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Riichi Nakaba. Four friends leave high-school (but not before the girl of the gang, Ryoko, has prick-teased a teacher and the guys have dropped a plant – and then tables and chairs – onto his head) and try to adjust to the outside world. Ryoko goes to work in a hair salon, while the lads continue with petty crime; Yuji is the good-guy, wearing a purple elderly-American style tracksuit and trying to better his life; Kotetsu has just come out of prison; Riichi, Ryoko’s boyfriend, is the crazy one, who can’t seem to turn away from his life of crime and violence. The gang’s friendship comes under even greater strain when Riichi and Kotetsu find work at a local restaurant – Kotetsu fancies beautiful employee Nahomi, but she’s fancied Riichi ever since junior high, and now she’s finally got him. Riichi’s life is now about to get worse…
Miike is feeling exceptionally mean-spirited with Innocent Blood, in particular towards Riichi. We often talk about people being built up and then knocked back down, sure, but Riichi doesn’t even get that far. From the moment he leaves high-school (and probably before, too), it seems his life is heading down a permanent downward spiral, an incline that just gets steeper, and Miike is totally unsympathetic towards him despite the fact that this is Riichi’s story. The other characters have problems too, but seem to be slowly getting over them, but then Miike knocks them all to the floor with just one stroke of his evil hand – I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say the finale is quite – ahem - “shocking”.
But I guess that maybe - to Miike anyway - that’s comedy. His sense of humour is pretty sick; as well as the aforementioned teacher incident, there’s the usual rash of light-hearted violence (someone having a harpoon fired into his leg and being dragged around by a motorcycle, that sort of thing), Yuji shitting himself during an automobile accident (well, I thought it was funny anyway!) and, best of all, Yuji puking onto Kotetsu’s head whilst the guys try to erase his tattoo with a fucking SOLDERING IRON! Miike also tries to insert a little surrealism into the film, a journey back to Yuji’s childhood in which he tries to explain to Ryoko his obsession with a protractor (eh?). Perhaps this trip through a grey wilderness of flashing lights and brightly-coloured numbers is meant to reflect some sort of cute whimsy, some sort of adult craving for the good old days of innocent youth. Instead, it’s very reminiscent of the building-blocks bedroom scene in the Rudy Ray Moore crappo-classic, The Human Tornado; a comedy whose best humour is mostly accidental due to Moore’s head being on another planet. Maybe this is meant to be a comic touch, too. If it is, in a movie where the best laughs are provided by baseball bats and knives, it is a trifle embarrassing.
The sequence stands out so much because it doesn’t fit in at all with the rest of the movie, but Miike never panders to audience’s expectations, and derives great pleasure from playing with our minds. The movie’s continual nihilistic tone sometimes gives the impression it may let up, just for a few seconds, but as soon as we breathe a sigh of relief, the clouds return with a vengeance. He manages to jar our nerves a bit too – a car race-cum-chase is particularly tense – with Miike there’s no guarantee that the heroes (anti-heroes, rather) are going to stay alive - , but the worst moment comes when Riichi ponders over punching an iron girder – we know it’s gonna happen, and we balance on the edges of our seats whilst we brace ourselves for it, but it still doesn’t make it any less painful when it finally comes.
Innocent Blood is a good, interesting and exciting film that is let down only by a short period in the middle where it takes on a kind of soap-opera ambience, with very little happening beyond the characters going about their problematic, everyday lives – surely these people could have gone out and beaten up some old guy, just to liven things up!!! Still, a lot of Miike material has been released lately, much of it not particularly good, so it’s nice to see this obscure opus see a release. This time, fans will not be disappointed.
And, as a final, inspired touch, the Beatles-esque closing song by Shinjiro Inoue is called Let It C. Class!
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.