Wild Life

"Weak"

Wild Life Review


Some people will do anything for love or money. But when ex-boxer Sakai Hiroki's boss disappears at the hands of yakuza thugs, it's nigh impossible to tell what his motives are. For that matter, it's hardly clear what director Shinji Aoyama was shooting for in the making of Wild Life. Known for his off-beat, parodic takes on various cinematic genres, Aoyama brings his sense of irony and dry humor to the world of hard-boiled yakuza flicks with this meandering piece from 1997.

Sakai Hiroki (Kesuke Toyohara) is a former boxer reinventing himself as a pachinko repairman in the employ of slightly shady game parlor owner Kenzo Tsumura (Mickey Curtis), who saved Hiroki from entering the only other career path open to a man of his talents, that of a yakuza enforcer. But when Tsumura falls prey to a yakuza boss (Jun Kunimura) over the robbery of one of his gaming parlors, Hiroki gets a taste of the thug life after all. Along the way, Hiroki falls for Tsumura's daughter, Rei (Runa Natsuo), as he is repeatedly harassed over a videotape that would reveal the mobsters' ill deeds.

Widely touted for its supposedly unconventional narrative, Wild Life tells its tale through a series of disjointed vignettes set out of order a la Quentin Tarantino. Skipping back and forth through the story's timeline, Aoyama attempts to keep his audience guessing about the fate of his characters and the true nature of the yakuza plot. But figuring out the relatively simplistic storyline is the least of the viewers' concerns. Far more troubling is the task of working out Hiroki's motivations as he takes pounding after pounding from the gang of half-witted thugsters who continue to hassle him throughout the film. Nor, for that matter, does it ever become clear why the protagonist clings to his absurdly banal bachelor lifestyle as he falls in love with Tsumura's daughter. Even if Aoyama were to set the film in perfectly chronological order, the plot couldn't seem any less intriguing and Hiroki's personality couldn't appear any more wooden and opaque.

Nearly every other scene of Wild Life follows a single, predictable format. Hiroki sits in a coffee shop or walks down the street, minding his own business until a few of the yakuza bad boys appear to demand that he hand over the tape. Hiroki pretends to know nothing about the tape and the thugs beat him up. In between the beating scenes, Hiroki talks to Rei, to the police, or to a now-dead colleague about various and sundry plot-filling matters. Then he goes back to being beaten, or shot. After being shot in the leg, he doesn't even limp. (And no, it has nothing to do with the film's chronological sequencing.) It's not until the film's climax that anything interesting begins to happen, and we don't see a hint of Hiroki's purported boxing skills until the last 15 minutes. (Although we never actually see Hiroki box, because for some reason Aoyama doesn't bother to put the fighting on camera. Perhaps Toyohara's acting just isn't up to the task, but we'll never know.)

For a director whose reputation rests on his innovative cinematography and relentlessly challenging graphic violence, Aoyama delivers almost none of either in this disjointed and superficial picture. The only scene in the entire film that merits any praise for its craftsmanship is an early moment in which Hiroki and Tsumura are being separately questioned by a detective. Rather than edit the scene into a series of cuts between the two interrogations, Aoyama instead rotates the camera around the table, dropping Hiroki out of the frame on one side and pulling Tsumura in on the other to alternate between the two interviews. But, interesting as the scene may be, it comes and goes so early in the film that audiences are sure to forget that single intriguing moment long before the boredom of Wild Life's remaining 90 minutes sets in.



Wild Life

Facts and Figures

Run time: 14 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 26th June 2011

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

IMDB: 6.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Shinji Aoyama

Producer: Shinji Aoyama

Also starring:

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