Production Company: KSS Inc., Television Tokyo Channel 12
Release: 18 January 1997
Length: 101 min.
Format: 35 mm; 1:1.85
Director: Enokido Koji
Executive Producers: Suzaki Kazuo, Kobayashi Naotake
Producers: Hirose Yu, Igarashi Tomoyuki, Satani Hidemi, Sasaki Kei
Screenplay: Konami Fumio, Nanki Kensei
Original Story: Kitakata Kenzo
Photography: Tanaka Jun
Music: Sato Masaharu
Art Director: Maruo Tomoyuki
Editor: Kanno Yoshio
Kawamoto Takashi: Hakamada Yoshihiko
Tamura Maki: Kurotani Tomoka
Murota Masayuki: Miura Tomokazu
Kawano Tokio: Kurata Shoichi
Takagi: Terada Minoru
Sumiya Kazuhiro: Sugata Shun
One sees the term “hard-boiled” frequently in the press sheets for Japanese movies these days, as if the “hard-boiler” has become a genre in itself after the decline of the Toei yakuza line and its imitators.
While it was foreshadowed by Fukasaku Kinji’s Combat Without a Code (“Jingi naki tatakai,” 1973), yakuza chivalry has finally left the screen and in its place, lone-wolf male heroes roam a labyrinthine, urban landscape that is much colder and often bereft of the signs of Japanese tradition central to the yakuza formula.
Supported by video cinema and its clientele of single male renters, such hard-boiled action films are now mass-produced. Yet they also count among them some of the best Japanese flicks of late. From Kitano Takeshi to Ishii Takashi, from Aoyama Shinji to the late Kumashiro Tatsumi, many directors have recently dipped into the hard-boiled world to ponder what kind of human relationships can be resurrected from the death of the yakuza ties of giri/ninjo obligation.
Their new heroes are made less of Steven Seagal steel than of rusty chrome covering an uncertain interior. One excellent example is Enokido Koji’s 1992 Investigation of Typical Love (“Arifureta ai ni kansuru chosa”), about a skilled but lonely private investigator who, while solitarily plodding through seemingly mundane cases, longs for an idyllic existence with a woman he loves far away from the asphalt jungle.
His dream was never realized, and it is perhaps for that reason that Enokido’s new film’s hero Takashi (Hakamada Yoshihiko) is even more asocial and nihilistic. Right from the start of the director’s new hard-boiler Innocent Hearts, he brutally clubs a yakuza to death for reasons of revenge. But this becomes only the beginning of his spree of violence.
He gets hired on the spot by Murota (Miura Tomokazu), a corrupt former journalist, to do his dirty work. Murota uses his investigative skills to rake in dough digging up dirt and weaving crooked deals, jobs for which he needs Takashi’s animal savagery to succeed. Torturing a bar owner into selling, pummeling a man to keep him from attending a receivership meeting, Takashi seems to be impelled by a brutal force, believing, as Murota observes, only in his own body.
Far from dreaming of escape with another, he only relates to others through his fists. That is, until he meets Maki (Kurotani Tomoka), a would-be-designer who, through her love, begins teaching him of another way to communicate beyond the physical.
Takashi also develops an odd loyalty to Murota. But in the end, Innocent Heart’s city is no longer the world of Enokido’s earlier film, in which the detective hero was blessed with a yakuza guardian angel. Murota is murdered and then Maki departs, leaving Takashi alone again and setting the stage for a violent but existential conclusion.
The story itself, based on a novel by Kenzo Kitakata, author of the source for Kumashiro’s swan song, Like a Rolling Stone (“Bo no kanashimi,” 1994), broadly but skillfully cuts to the heart of the hard-boiler’s central problematic: how to relate to the other. But unlike Rolling Stone or Enokido’s Investigation of Typical Love, this cast does not fully rise to the occasion.
The weakness mostly lies in the character of Maki. The production notes boast of the film’s uniqueness in presenting the hard-boiled world from a woman’s point of view. Little of this intention, however, remains in the version on screen. Maki’s invasion of and ultimate retreat from Takashi’s life do provide poignant moments, but Kurotani simply lacks the depth to bring this complex role to the fore. And without her strength, we cannot feel the reality of the alternative she poses to Takashi’s barbaric physicality.
Hakamada tries hard in a part he does not quite fit and Miura is not on screen long enough to be a force. Despite working in a film centered on exploring the possibilities of human contact in a cold and violent world, the cast fails to mesh and often seems at odds.
Instead of suggesting a solution, Innocent Hearts unwittingly leaves us pessimistic that hard-boilers can ever find an alternative to the urban alienation that still haunts its resolutely uninnocent world.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 23 January 1997, p. 9.
Copyright 1997: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow