Thursday, April 21, 2011

Not Your Average Japanese Yakuza Movie: Sharkskin Man Peach Hip Girl

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Sie Kohinata
Category: Action Comedy

The Japanese title of the movie is "Samehada otoko to momojiri onna".
The only way I can begin to describe this movie is that it feels like a cross between a live action anime and a dark indie comedy. In a good way. The movie begins with two storylines meeting up. The first is the tale of the young maid at a mountain inn who is trying to escape her uncle, the manager of the inn. Her uncle clearly has designs for her, twisted designs. The second is the tale of a yakuza henchman on the run after stealing the mob's money. It isn't clear how he stole it but the yakuza is pissed enough to send in multiple groups of killers from HQ, despite friction between the groups. It is obvious they each have their history with each other. Led by a senior member, they want the money back even though it is not a huge sum by their account. At first I thought it was that they wanted to make a lesson out of him but as the story progresses, it seems that they are as interested in the money as they are the henchman (Sharkskin Guy). The maid (Peach Hip Girl) and the henchmen cross paths. The henchmen first thinks that he is taking her on the run but later realises she too is on the run and decide to run together.
The movie is filled with stereotypes from an anime movie or a manga comic. We have the boss's off-the rails son in ultra-fashionable clothes who fancies himself to be the most ruthless killer around, the senior yakuza boss with a collector's streak, the gay killer for hire who is hired by the uncle to track and kill whoever she is running with and a few more characters that manga readers will recognise immediately. The movie is also very Japanese. There is a scene where the henchman stops by the roadside to buy cigarettes from a roadside vending machine. You read right, a roadside vending machine. Where you would normally find a mailbox, exposed to the elements. Anywhere else in the world, the vending machine would be toast, banged up and broken into. But not in Japan. (Look up their recent conduct after the tsunami and you would appreciate the unique culture of the Japanese).
What is interesting is that the movie is not all slam-bang-thank-you-ma'am. It breaks up into long 'pauses' where the characters indulge in small-talk as they wait for information from the local Yakuza 'branch'. The whole movie takes place in the mountains and you can see the city-folk Yakuza are out of their depths. I've read elsewhere people complain about these pauses. This is where it feels like an indie movie. It is probably truly reflecting real life. Even if you are chasing someone, the moment you lose them, there is this stage where you wait for the scent or trail to be picked up again.  This is where is goes into indie movie territory. There is a lot of dialogue. The killers are human and indulge in the most human of things, gossip and talking shop. If you are expecting a hollywood-style action movie, where the action never lets up, this will grate your nerves. But listen carefully to what the characters are saying, each of them have their own stories. There are a few subplot purely in the dialogue and you will enjoy the movie on a different level.
I can't recommend this move enough, even though it is over 10 years old.

No comments :