Judge Adam Arseneau wants a divorce.
Our review of Family (2006), published July 28th, 2011, is also available.
Blood will be spilled.
From the prolific and slightly insane mind of Japanese cult auteur Takashi Miike (Izo, Ichi The Killer, The Black Society Trilogy, Audition, Dead Or Alive, et al) comes Family, the closest thing to a genuinely crappy Miike movie as North American audiences are ever liable to see.
This won't take long.
Facts of the Case
A cabal of Yakuza leaders called the "Japanese Mafia" form an underground money laundering ring worth hundreds of billions of yen. They are concerned when a rival member is killed by a mysterious assassin known as Lightning Takeshi, so named for the Harry Potter-esque facial marking.
Unfortunately, there was a witness to the crime—a nun who happened to be in the wrong place. Lightning, after killing five or six people in front of her and then sticking a gun in her face, falls in love with the nun—and, more amusingly, she with him. Just like in real life. I kind of stopped paying attention for a bit after that.
It gets even more complicated with it is revealed that Takeshi is the brother of Takashi and Hideshi, two rival gang members in the Japanese Mafia family. When Lightning is declared an enemy, they are forced to make some tough decisions about family.
When you make a half-dozen films a year, one of them is statistically bound to be lousy. Family wins the prize for Takashi Miike.
The first immediately noticeable aspect of this film is the medium, one of the first films shot on digital video by director Miike. Unfortunately, Family plays more like sketchbook experimentation with said digital medium than an actual cohesive film. Every scene is loaded with bizarre effects, shifting and gradient color schemes, simulated film stock effects and pseudo-damage. The visual trickery gives Family a very amateurish feel to it, like a student making his first film out of film school and overloading it with every visual effect at the disposal of his Apple computer. Somewhere in the mess lays an actual movie, buried like an ostrich in the sand, but I never found it.
What little plot is discernible from the jumble of tired Yakuza clichés and rehashes of Miike's earlier work bears more than a passing resemblance to American action films from the 1980s: big, loud, and utterly puerile, though Arnold and Sly are nowhere to be seen. There is a hollowness in Family that is not present in Miike's other work, like nobody really bothered to put much into the entire presentation. The story is tired and redundant, the acting mediocre. There really isn't anything of substance going on in Family beyond some boring yakuza drama that fails to materialize into anything worthwhile, some corny special effects, and plenty of sexual molestation. One gets the feeling that the director was extremely bored while making this film—there's simply no heart put into it.
Then suddenly, the film ends. The plot is left horribly unresolved. Oh, yeah, didn't we mention? This is a two-part film…except that the packaging utterly fails to mention this in any way, shape or form. Unless you did painstaking research, you would have no idea there was a second part to this lousy film to be seen. Maybe Family as a two-part epic would be more satisfactory than this lousy DVD. We'll never know. As it stands, Family is, hands down, the lousiest Takashi Miike film to date. Avoid this like the plague, unless you genuinely enjoy lousy, soulless, boring movies.
Stuck in a 1.85:1 letterbox format, Family has mediocre impact on the screen, but this is in part due to Miike's over-the-top experimentation with the digital medium. Virtually every shot in Family is inappropriate from a traditional cinematography standpoint, almost as if the filmmaker decided to shoot scenes in dark rooms with absolutely incorrect lighting levels just to see what happens. As such, the presentation is all over the place, with a soft, hazy, grainy transfer with washy black levels.
The score is a bad grind-metal soundtrack that sounds postdated to Seattle in the 1990s—more than a little cheesy. Surprisingly, the audio fares much better than the transfer, with a clean, crisp, ambient stereo recording with solid bass response. Bullets reverberate and echo quite impressively, considering the low-budget recording.
The disc's sole supplementary material comes in the form of trailers for various other Miike films, which is cooler than it sounds. For fans, a collection of original Japanese trailers (sadly, minus subtitles) almost qualifies as decent content. Almost.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Only in the last 20 minutes does Family begin to redeem itself to the faithful, when things really start getting outlandish - with elements like the foot fetishes and the guy who brings a tank to a knife fight. Yeah, I said "tank." By this point, it is too late to save the film, but it definitely helps wash away the bitter taste. Tanks make any film better. This is a statistically proven fact.
If mediocre Miike makes you salivate with excitement, then Family may be let off with the lightest of warnings. But truth be told, this particular title isn't worth much attention, even from hardcore fans. With so many other compelling and fantastic Miike films available to the consumer, there is nary a reason to bother with such a mediocre offering.
Terrible, terrible, terrible.
Hey, Miike was bound to lay a goose egg eventually.
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