J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, July 04, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Kiyamachi Daruma

Shiego Katsuura is like the Yakuza version of those terrible quadriplegic jokes ignorant grade-schoolers tell. Yet, no matter what his condition might be, leaving him angrier than you found him is probably a bad idea. Five years ago, a rival severed all four limbs, but he keeps working in Hideo Sakaki’s Kiyamachi Daruma (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.

Katsuura is a miserable bastard, especially if he meets you while collecting loan-shark debts. Obviously, Katsuura is no longer a kneecap-breaker, but he can still be aggressively hostile. Kenta Sakamoto, Katsuura’s long-suffering keeper, maliciously deposits his charge with delinquent debtors, who then must deal with the nontraditional gangster’s excretions and lecherous demands. If you think it sounds creepy, just wait till you see him in limited action.

Yes, we are definitely talking about a slice of Japanese extremity here. However, Sakaki and screenwriter Hiroyuki Maruno (adapting his own novel) still posit a moral universe for these characters to inhabit. For reasons we eventually learn, Sakamoto is particularly troubled by the practice of holding children accountable for their parents’ debts. He also starts to suspect the current boss, Furusawa, who inherited the Kiya town territory from Katsuura is holding back information about the fateful incident.

There is some tough stuff in Kiyamachi Daruma (Daruma being a Japanese equivalent of an inflatable punching bag clown)—and frankly Katsuura’s condition is least of it. The horrors and humiliations that befall the Arai family are deeply troubling to witness, but at least they will set off a wicked karmic chain of events.

As Katsuura, Kenichi Endo truly puts the “f” and the “u” in furious. He is one bad cat, literally on wheels. Clearly, it was a demanding performance on a physical level, but he takes quiet, burning existential rage to new levels. He is something else, but Masaki Miura and Yuichi Kimura give the film genuinely tragic Shakespearean dimension as Sakamoto and Furusawa, respectively.

If you are unsure whether Kiyamachi is for you, then you should really think twice before going. Had Takeshi Miike and the late Koji Wakamatsu ever collaborated on a Yakuza film, it might have looked something like this (and if that comparison does not mean anything to you, consider it a hint you should take). However, if you want to be challenged by a film, Kiyamachi will do it in edifying and evil ways. Recommended for hardcore fans of Yakuza and cult films, Kiyamachi Daruma screens tomorrow (7/5) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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