The Black Society Trilogy
–Shinjuku Triad Society
Original Year of Release: 1995
Original Year of Release: 1997
Original Year of Release: 1999
Directed by Takashi Miike
Courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution
Blu-ray Release Date: January 24, 2017
I have been a fan of director Takashi Miike for a long time, although I confess I didn’t realize how diverse his films were until just a few years ago. And when I say diverse, I’m not kidding; Miike has made movies that range from family-friendly to just downright wrong. This is definitely a good thing, as it does not confine him to a certain stereotype, but the Black Society Trilogy are the three films that helped define him for a generation of film buffs.
THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY is comprised of three different movies that really have nothing to do with each other. They were shot within a four-year span, although Miike did several other titles during this period as well. These three stand out as some of the best examples of his distinct style. And as a result, they are a trio of absolute classics.
If you are not familiar with THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video & MVD Distribution:
After several years spent working almost exclusively in the direct-to-video world of V-cinema in Japan, Takashi Miike announced himself as a world-class filmmaking talent with this trio of thematically-connected, character-centric crime stories about violence, the underworld of Japanese society, families both real and surrogate, and the possibly hopeless task of finding one’s place in the world. His first films made specifically for theatrical release, and his first for a major studio, the Black Society Trilogy was the beginning of Miike’s mature career as a filmmaker and they remain among the prolific director’s finest works.
Set in the bustling Kabuki-cho nightlife neighborhood of Tokyo, Shinjuku Triad Society follows a mixed-race cop (Kippei Shiina, Outrage) struggling with private issues while hunting a psychotic criminal (Tomorowo Taguchi, Tetsuo the Iron Man) who traffics in children’s organs. Rainy Dog, shot entirely in Taiwan, is about an exiled yakuza (Dead or Alive s Show Aikawa) who finds himself saddled with a son he never knew he had and a price on his head after the Chinese gang he works for decides to turn on him. Ley Lines moves from the countryside to the city and back, as three Japanese youths of Chinese descent (including The Raid 2’s Kazuki Kitamura) seek their fortune in Tokyo, only to run afoul of a violent gang boss (Naoto Takenaka, The Happiness of the Katakuris).
Three of the most dramatically moving films created by the director, the “Black Society Trilogy” offers clear proof that Miike’s frequent pigeonholing as a specialist in bloody spectacle is only one aspect of his filmmaking career, and taken as a whole, the films are among the finest works ever to deal with the way violence and brutality can unexpectedly destroy even the most innocent of lives.
Miike has 100 directing credits in his filmography, and I’m chagrinned to admit I’ve only seen about 10 of his films. But every one I’ve seen has been fantastic, regardless of the genre. I am consistently impressed with the wide skillset Miike presents with his filmmaking.
Each film in THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY is shot well and looks excellent onscreen. The HD transfer looks nice, offering crisp imagery and impeccable sound. I saw RAINY DOG years ago on DVD, and the picture quality was terrible. I’m glad to see the Blu-ray version is much, much improved.
The acting in each film is great, although I admit I’m only vaguely familiar with a few of the names. The actor that stood out the most is one I recognized from a previous film: Kazuki Kitamura, who portrays Ryuichi in LEY LINES, was also Boss Koji from the Crazy 88 in KILL BILL: VOLUME 2. This lack of recognizable actors does nothing to detract from the films, however.
The stories in each film of THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY are complex and well-developed. SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY is a riveting crime-thriller with top-notch pacing and an intriguing concept. Likewise, RAINY DOG is a darkly humorous thriller that captivates, thanks to the drama between the yakuza and his unwanted son. And finally, LEY LINES is a dark, atmospheric movie that deals with detachment and alienation. The stark difference in each film is a testament to the diverse talents of their accomplished director.
If I were forced to pick a favorite film out of this group, I’d probably go with RAINY DOG. As I mentioned, I had seen it before, therefore I knew what to expect. When compared to the other two films, it’s a bit more light-hearted and therefore not as tense. Now, don’t get me wrong: I loved LEY LINES and SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY as well. But RAINY DOG struck a chord with me, and it is therefore the one that stands out most in my mind.
THE BLACK SOCIETY TRILOGY is a major win for me, and I highly recommend adding it to your movie library. These are quintessential Miike films, so if you’re a fan of his style or even just Japanese crime-thrillers in general, these three films are must-haves. The set is available now. In addition to the HD picture and sound, the set contains some nice features that include:
2-DISC SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• High Definition digital transfers of all three films
• Original uncompressed PCM stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles for all three films
• New interview with director Takashi Miike
• New interview with actor Show Aikawa (Rainy Dog, Ley Lines)
• New audio commentaries for all three films by Miike biographer Tom Mes
• Original theatrical trailers for all three films
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
• FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the films