Film Reviews

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A Takashi Miike

Rating - 8/10

Takashi Miike has made his reputation over the last several years as one of the most fearless, audacious, and absurdly prolific filmmakers in the world. With over sixty films under his belt, he is naturally remembered best for his most excessive moments. The family satire/catalogue of transgressive perversity Visitor Q. Yakuza violence and sickness exponentially multiplied in Ichi the Killer and Dead or Alive.

Miike's most acclaimed export has been Audition. While that film did end with a potent stream of bizarre imagery and difficult to stomach violence, it was really made resonant by the first half, as fine and deliberate a character study as one is likely to find in a straight drama. This aspect makes the point that the hyperproductive Miike has far many more facets than the shocking international provocateur that has become the most famous.

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A, a wonderful and mysterious film, may reveal a few new sides to Miike. Despite several festival exhibitions, it did not receive North American theatrical distribution. It comes on DVD courtesy of a 2 disc package from Animeigo. The odd title is a more suggestive alteration from its original, which translates to something like Love of 4.6 Billion Years.

The story is simple enough. A young prisoner, Shiro, is found dead with another, Jun, atop him, strangling him. The strangler confesses. Their relationship, and the real circumstances of Shiro's death, are revealed as the murder is investigated. The presentation is not as simple. The film is a visual marvel, the colors and framing always compelling. One of the most striking elements is the set design. The backgrounds are arresting and stripped down. Single colors often take the place of walls. A holding area indicated by a series of boxes. Prison environments composed in garish expressionistic triangles. Barriers indicated by chalk, a la Von Trier's Dogville.

Further distancing techniques continue to evoke European rascals like Godard and Brecht. Characters address the camera directly, answering questions asked by superimposed text. The film is chopped up and formalized into passages that are not always concretely distinguishable. Frames are established and then stepped through. Characters fade in and out of shots.

It is admittedly difficult to parse just what Miike means by all of this, but that is not a flaw. Though it can be elusive with what the story of two young murderers has to say about contemporary Japanese culture. Or whether this is happening in our world, the future, or some sci fi alternate dimension. Or the full significance of the rocket to space and the pyramid to heaven just beyond the prison's fences. It is there to provoke feeling and thought, at which it beautifully succeeds.

The center of the movie is the relationship between Shiro and Jun. They share an unspoken bond the film does not vulgarize by explaining. Shiro is an alpha psychopath, compulsively violent, feared and despised by most of the prison population. Jun is distant, effeminate, and seemingly sensitive and fragile, though he spent at least 8 hours repeatedly mutilating the corpse of the man he allegedly killed in self defence.

Shiro inexplicably goes out of his way to protect Jun, and they develop a relationship as elliptical and strange as the circumstances that brought them together. It is loving and homoerotic, indeed, but never exploitational or graphic. The physicality of their relationship, in fact, is never revealed. When all is revealed that is not to say that much more is understood, but the film has done a fascinating job of depicting its own enigma.