Judge Adam Arseneau tried living in white society, but nobody knew how to dance there.
Triple the gangsters! Triple the adventure! Triple the black society!
Black Society Trilogy: Special Limited Edition is a box set offering of Takashi Miike's seminal yakuza trilogy, identical to the three films released as single discs by ArtsMagicDVD: Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, and Ley Lines, and coincidentally, all reviewed by yours truly. These you should check out for a more in-depth review of each film, since this box set review will be a relative abridgement. The films, completely separate in plot, storyline, and characters, are connected loosely by themes of loneliness, isolation, and abandonment, an abstract trick utilized again by Miike in a second trilogy, the notorious Dead Or Alive series.
A brief summary: Shinjuku Triad Society tells the story of Tatsuhito, a dirty cop on the trail of a sadistic Chinese warlord, Wang. When Tatsuhito learns that his promising young brother has joined Wang's legal team, he goes ballistic and declares all-out war on Wang, journeying into the steamy streets of Taiwan in order to crack down on Wang's financial empire. Rainy Dog tells the story of a yakuza gangster named Yuuji living in Taiwan, abandoned by his gang, living on the fringes of Taiwanese society. He takes up contract work for money, and ends up having dumped on him a small mute boy from a woman he slept with who she claims is his son. But when it appears that Yuuji has killed the wrong man, suddenly, he is on the run for his life, dragging his newfound son behind him. Finally, Ley Lines introduces us to three disaffected small-town youths who make their way to Tokyo to find a sense of cultural identity. They get mixed up with Chinese prostitutes, drug dealers, and a Chinese mafia boss named Wong. Desperate to escape the city and find a place where they belong, they concoct a scheme to rob Wong blind…but what chance do three small-town troublemakers have declaring all-out war on the Chinese mafia?
Having all these films in front of you at the same time makes the thematic connections between the films all the stronger. On the surface, the films all have plot-related devices in common with one another: the Chinese mafia, characters of mixed racial heritage living in Japan, lots of sex and violence, the same actors in each film, and so on. Thematically, what connects these films in the subtext is a pervasive isolation; a deep-rooted personal loneliness that originates from individuals living in a highly ritualized and deeply rooted society like Japan. These characters have absolutely no sense of cultural identity whatsoever, and desperately try to find one, but the society (be it the streets of Taiwan or the back alleys of Japan) offers no respite, no sense of belonging. Indeed, the trilogy is aptly named…the black society that admits no outsiders, cuts no slack, and swallows up the bodies that perish at the fringes of its borders. In short, these excellent films could totally kick your ass. And yet, each film takes a different approach to expressing these themes. Shinjuku Triad Society is harsh, brutal, uncompromising in its view of the world, where its characters are driven to fury by their primal instincts, infuriated by their isolation. Rainy Dog takes a much more somber, melancholic view, its characters in mourning, living on the fringes of society. The final film, Ley Lines, is almost humble in its naïveté, its characters heartfelt in their simple desire to simply belong, to be loved, full of promise and hope to make something better of their lives. Oh yeah…and also, these are Takashi Miike films, so each film has lots of bizarre sex, incredibly violent confrontations, and cinematic sequences so odd, they actually make your brain cells leap out of your ears out of sheer panic. These are fantastic films, each one of them, and they need to make their way into your DVD collection.
ArtsMagicDVD has put out three great DVDs with the Black Society Trilogy. Each disc is virtually identical to its standalone cousin, offering a good-looking (though soft and grainy) anamorphic widescreen transfer, decent Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track, a fantastic and compelling commentary track by Miike aficionado Tom Mes on each film, and a smattering of director and editor interviews to boot. ArtsMagicDVD has put care into these releases, and frankly, it is nice to see these kinds of obscure, low profile releases (relatively speaking) garnish the extra attention that they deserve. Good job.
I admit, it would have been nice to see some extra content in the box set, to give you an additional incentive to purchase the big kahuna, but alas. And while I am on the subject of wants, a 5.1 surround track would have been really, really nice to see…but a man can dream, can't he?
So, if you plan on picking up these films, is the Black Society Trilogy: Special Limited Edition the way to go about it? Absolutely. Though this box set offers no incentive in the way of extra content or supplementary features that are unavailable on the standalone discs, it has a few things going for it. First, the DVDs come bundled in a handsome cardboard gatefold case, which will look much nicer on your shelf than the regular transparent DVD cases the single discs come packaged in. Secondly, from an MSRP point of view, buying the collector's set saves you a big spankin' five dollars. And who doesn't want to save five dollars?
Granted, this box set will only seriously appeal to fans of Takashi Miike and his work, looking to pick up this seminal trilogy on DVD for the first time in North America, trading in their erroneously subtitled eBay versions for nice, shiny, superior versions. After all, a box set like this represents a modest financial commitment, but a mandatory one for Miike fans. So if you are simply curious about the director and his works (or are reeling in horror and interest after haplessly renting films like Ichi The Killer or Audition from a Blockbuster Video one day), you are probably better off sticking to the single releases of the films. I suggest starting with Ley Lines and slowly working you way into full-fledged fan status. Don't worry…you'll be caught up in no time.
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• Commentaries with Tom Mes, Writer on Japanese Cinema
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