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GONIN (director/writer: Takashi Ishii; cinematographer: Yasushi Sasakihara; editor: Akimasa Kawashima; cast: Takeshi Kitano (Kyoya), Toshiyuki Nagashima (Ogoshi), Koichi Sato (Bandai), Masahiro Motoki (Mitsuya), Jinpachi Nezu (Hizu), Naoto Takenaka (Ogiwara), Kippei Shiina (Jimmy); Runtime: 109; Shochiku/Phaedra Cinema; 1995-Japan)
“I prefer that my violent flicks make a little more sense.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A poorly crafted revenge action film, that seems to be satisfied with itself for being so muddled and image conscious. Gonin is a slickly done visual treat in bizarre behavior and violence, with homoerotic overtones. This is a nonstop action flick styled after those recent Hong Kong action films of John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark. Since I’m not a fan of the originators of this genre, I’m especially not partial to their imitators. “Gonin,” which means ‘the five,’ is devoid of character development and a coherent story, or anything but mindless blood-and-gore. It uses film techniques such as jump-cuts and fast editing to get over. But even with all those filmmaking tricks of the trade, the action scenes seem like they’re in slo-mo when compared to the Hong Kong ones.

The plot involves five ‘regular’ citizens who rob the powerful Ogoshi yakuza of over 100 million yen. They are then relentlessly hunted down by two psychopathic hitmen, who pursue them till they get them all.

The five men who dare to carry out this foolhardy mission are in desperate need of cash. Their leader is a gay disco owner, Mr. Bandai (Sato), who owes the yakuza 100 million yen and is threatened if he can’t pay them. He plans to pay them back with the money he steals from them. To do this he randomly recruits an ex-detective kicked off the force for gambling and now working as a bouncer in a strip joint, Hizu (Jinpachi Nezu); an unemployed loser who can’t face his family because of his financial failures and has an awful giggle, Ogiwara (Naoto Takenata); a stuttering pimp with bleached blond hair who loves a Thai prostitute, Jimmy (Kippei Shiina); and, the busboy lover of Bandai, the shakedown male hustler Mitsuya (Masahiro Motoki). Bandai manages to pull off the heist despite how inept his gang is.

But the yakuza hire two hitmen to hunt them down. One of them is the patient brute, wearing an eye patch, Kyoya (Beat Takeshi Kitano). The hitmen quickly locate all of them since the gang fails to cover-up their identities properly, and the film becomes a vehicle for showy performances. Kyoya is fearsome and gay, and the lover of the other hit man, Kazuma. In one scene Kyoya appears holding a blue umbrella in one hand and is blazing away with his gun in the other. The only memories I take away from Gonin are of the gruesome kind. Director Ishii used to illustrate manga–hyper-realistic, action-packed Japanese comics. He uses the violence to make a cartoonlike story. There’s definitely an audience for this type of cultish film, but I prefer that my violent flicks make a little more sense and have at least some character development. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs looks like a Shakespearean classic compared to Gonin.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”