Schlock Artistry

Lurid manga shocks achieve almost avant-garde effect.


directed by Takashi Miike

runs Sept. 13-19 at Grand Illusion

POOR RIKI FUDOH. After witnessing his brother's slaying at the hands of his degenerate yakuza father in an omerta-style blood atonement, the crime-family scion enters adolescence with vengeance burning in his breast. Years later, Fudoh fils has marshaled his own loyal posse of school-yard marginals—a sadistic homunculus, a pair of prepubescent hit men (hit tots?), and a clutch of teenage stripper-assassins—to coolly whack his father's associates one by one in preparation for The Inevitable Showdown.

That's really the nuts and bolts of this 1996 cult classic by Takashi Miike (Audition, The Happiness of the Katakuris). As with much of the Hong Kong action genre, Fudoh: The New Generation's plot is hopelessly opaque, an impenetrable mess involving a twisted order of Shinto- observing thugs, a mysterious moll, a dapper rival sporting a sharp Billy Ray do, a deranged half brother with ridiculously high standards of kimchi quality . . . it's folly to attempt clarity. But fret not, for the real rewards of a Miike film do not flow from such pedestrian affairs as plot coherence or character development.

No, Fudoh's genius rests on some of the most graphic and audacious on-screen transgressions this side of Richard Kern. Acid baths. Forced sodomy. Multiple beheadings. A vaginally fired dart gun. Let me repeat that: a vaginally fired dart gun. What should unfold as a rote gangster flick about (yawn) murder and revenge is transformed, in Miike's deft hands, into a spectacular piece of Grand Guignol psychotronics, a genre send-up, and a scathing piece of social commentary. Think Breathless as done by Paul Verhoeven (with 20 percent more she-males and exploding heads).

Long-form manga comic books have long provided a pressure valve for Japanese youngsters constrained by a Confucian society demanding obedience to authority. Often (but not always) rife with romantic anti-heroes, deviant sex(ism), and appalling violence, the format is notorious precisely because it offers itself as a quick and easy vehicle for rebellion, an autonomous zone in which, for a few yen, good old-fashioned teenage anomie and the rankest fantasies of power and debasement can be indulged.

Fudoh is simply this manga escapism writ large: a spectacle concerned with little more than assaulting tradition and standards of propriety by means of pulpy exaggeration and irresistible momentum. Sure, Miike travels along an extremely well-worn path of epater-ing us boojwah types, but his sophisticated formal abilities, idiosyncratic sense of irony, and (ultrablack) humor elevate Fudoh from mere Troma-type pandering to a new vista of stylish sleaze.

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