While he enjoyed this piece of oddball Japanese cinema, Judge Geoffrey Miller must confess that he couldn't quite follow the plot.
"Making money is a game, a trick."—Jiro
Not too long ago, I reviewed another film in ArtsMagicDVD's Rokuro Mochizuki DVD Collection series, A Yakuza In Love. At the time, I praised Mochizuki's skills as an innovative and exciting director, but lamented the film's lack of cohesion. Mobsters' Confessions, the next entry in ArtsMagicDVD's Mochizuki series, nearly mirrors A Yakuza In Love's basic narrative; they also share some similar flaws. But, for several reasons, Mobsters' Confessions is a more satisfying and successful film.
Facts of the Case
Jiro Asakawa (Shunsuke Matsuoka) is a con man who makes his living by posing as a consultant and bilking businesses out of their money. His latest target is Moriyasu (Hiromi Kuronuma), a gullible small business owner. Things are going well at first, but Jiro's plans are complicated when he falls for Moriyasu's stepdaughter, Kumiko (Amiko Kanaya). Sexually abused and prostituted by Moriyasu, Kumiko is desperate to escape and eagerly gives in to Jiro's advances. Soon after, Jiro starts doing business with Kamewada (Shohei Hino), a yakuza boss who wants in on a piece of Jiro's action. Jiro gets in way too deep, dragging himself and Kumiko down into a complicated web of deception and betrayals.
Based on the manga by Jiro Asada and Takeshi Kouno, Mobsters' Confessions is a wild, unpredictable yakuza film that constantly toys with our expectations. It's set during the Japanese economic boom of the '80s, which was very much like America during the same time. Bad hair, brick-sized cellphones, and a "greed is good" mentality ruled the day. It's no surprise that the distinctive brand of amoral, crooked capitalism that defined the '80s (on both sides of the Pacific) is a major component of the movie.
Mobsters' Confessions is unique, even within the formula-shredding world of modern Japanese cinema's mavericks, in that it's a yakuza film where the main character is not truly a yakuza member. Jiro is no angel—he's often callous and thinks nothing of screwing over anyone foolish enough to trust him—but he's more of a conniving businessman than a thug. When he's reigned into associating with the yakuza by Kamewada, it's not entirely of his own will. As a man with no loyalty to anyone besides himself, he finds it difficult to understand the familial ties of the yakuza and is unprepared for their brutal business methods.
It's also not a film particularly interested in straightforward storytelling. Following the complex scams that Jiro concocts is nearly impossible, and it's clearly that way by design. Mochizuki is much more interested in using the basic plot as a jumping board to tinker with conventions (including the ones he's established in his own work). He revisits his days as a pink eiga director with steamy sex scenes, critiques Japanese society, and parodies other yakuza films. While the result is somewhat disjointed, it's also freewheeling and playful, laced with black humor and smirking irreverence. The sense of playfulness is heightened by the use of handheld cameras, lending the movie a sense of immediacy and energy (shades of cinéma vérité).
Like many of Mochizuki's other films, Mobsters' Confessions prominently features a dysfunctional romance. But unlike A Yakuza In Love, where the protagonist's yakuza activities and his romantic relationship were, for the most part, separate, Kumiko is practically Jiro's business partner. When Jiro starts prostituting her out to seduce his marks—just like Moriyasu used to—he makes her an essential part of the business while dissolving his trust in her faithfulness. As this practice continues, their relationship gets darker and weirder; Jiro hits Kumiko every time she sleeps with another man, even if it was at his bidding, but he's turned on hearing about her promiscuous exploits.
Typically a character actor cast in supporting roles, Shunsuke Matsuoka is surprisingly effective as Jiro, who's tough and crafty, yet oddly innocent—almost unaware of the way his actions cause harm to others. Matsuoka certainly doesn't have matinee idol looks; he's lanky, with long, straggly hair and a big beak of a nose. But it's for those very same reasons that he's so effective. You don't expect a guy with these kinds of looks to be a criminal.
Two other performances stand out. Shingo Tsurumi is a riot as Jay, a bumbling, strangely affable yakuza bodyguard who becomes Jiro's right-hand man. Whether fumbling with his gun or unsuccessfully trying to woo a girl, he makes for fine comedic relief. Shohei Hino is cold and menacing as yakuza boss Kamewada. He's short, bald, and malformed, resembling something straight out of David Lynch's nightmares. The rest of the cast is solid, although unremarkable.
In addition to a fine transfer job, ArtsMagicDVD has included a handful of bonus features. The most substantial of the extras is a commentary track by Japanese film expert Tom Mes. Mes provides the usual film critic commentary track—rich in information and analysis but dry in delivery. An interview with Mochizuki himself (culled from the same session as the interview on A Yakuza In Love) contains some interesting tidbits, although the best part has absolutely no relation to Mobsters' Confessions. Mochizuki goes on a free-associative tangent about World War II kamikaze pilots, Palestinian suicide bombers, and pornography that will make you scratch your head.
Rokuro Mochizuki has a knack for making movies that are as compelling as they are frustrating. This is one of his more fruitful experiments. Despite its puzzling plot, Mobsters' Confessions rides an exhilarating wave of fresh, fast-paced filmmaking. It's more enjoyable than A Yakuza In Love, cutting away some of the fat and doing a better job integrating its disparate mix of genres. Throughout the movie, characters sing an old Japanese song by Akira Kobayashi, an actor and singer from the '60s. It's simultaneously an expression of the Japanese people's materialistic desires, an ode to doomed love, and a cunning bit of wordplay—as oddly inscrutable as it is affecting. In other words, it sums up Mobsters' Confessions perfectly.
Not guilty. Mobsters' Confessions is a solid choice for fans of subversive Japanese cinema.
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