Director Yosuke Okuda has recently turned heads with his run of gruesome underworld dramas that that have been unrepentant in their themes, tone and realism. In 2012, Okuda offered up Tokyo Playboy Club, which explored the seedier side of Japan’s nightlife and had a brilliant and relentless dark vibe (think Jarmusch’s Dead Man but in Kabukicho). The piece was invited to the prestigious International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2012 and picked up the Student Jury Prize at the Tokyo Filmex festival in 2011. Last year he came forth with Kuzu to Busu to Gesu (The Dork, The Girl and The Douchebag) and pushed the envelope on realism by using himself as the luckless small-time pimp who runs afoul of the yakuza and has his life made into a living hell. He stages real beatings for himself and uses real blood (his own) in scenes where his character takes it on the chin (or the nose, as in one scene where his nose ring gets ripped out).
While it took Okuda four years to get a film together after Tokyo Playboy Club, this time we see a quick turnaround for his new feature, Rokudenashi—with help from Masashi Yamamoto, who acts as the associate producer. Yamamoto is well known among fans of crime and underworld dramas in Japan and has produced some quasi-experimental work as well. In 1987, his Robinson’s Garden portrayed the ennui of the lost generation amid the economic bubble and featured filmmaker and reggae musician Izaba (then a Japanese resident). His Junk Food (1998) was gripping in its brutality and heralded a new window to violent film in Japan.
In Rokudenashi, bouncer/enforcer Kazuma (Yasumi Endo) meets Yuko (Yumi Endo) on the streets of Shibuya and saves her from a stalker, but the club owner Kazuma works for is tied to the yakuza. When Yuko’s family debt chases her down, Kazuma has to decide how to protect her in this unforgiving world. Another plot line follows Hiroshi (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who works at the same club and is walking a tightrope by doing business behind his boss’s back. The themes of survival, loyalty, love, and sacrifice shine through in another compelling film from Okuda. It’s not for the squeamish, but hardboiled fans will be pleased. (106 min.)