Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scars of the Sun (aka. Sun Scarred aka. Miike Takashii's Tiayou no kizu) 太陽の傷

Scars of the Sun (aka. Sun Scarred)
Tiayou no kizu

DIRECTOR: Miike Takashi
Aikawa Sho
Sato Aiko

120 Minutes
Format Viewed: Japanese DVD

Back in January and February of this year I was (wonderfully) stuck down in Okinawa dealing with some US immigration issues (long story). Because I suddenly had a large amount of time on my hands and there is only so much screenplay writing one can physically do a day, I was hitting the old Tsutaya once a week and renting about 10 to 15 films and TV shows at a time. It was pure Japanese media saturation and a great chance to catch up on new releases and a bunch of obscure 1970s ATG productions. (More on the Art Theater Guild at another time.)

One of the films I watch while there was Miike Takashi [then] newly released SCARS OF THE SUN (aka. Taiyou no Kizu). Here's a mini-review of the film that I wrote (in part) back in January (and the rest now). I apologize for the cobbled-together feel of it!

So I watched Miike's fantastic TAIYO NO KIZU last night and I liked it a lot. It's a surprisingly serious production and one that somehow dodges all potential comedic pitfalls that would hit a film with this kind of concept: teenage kids vs. middle age men. The speculation way back when on only added to this saying essentially that the film was veteran Japanese film actor (and V-Cinema star) Aikawa Sho vs. middle school kids. It is not camp at all. In fact, it's dark stuff and the violence in the film is very stark. This is truly post IZO Miike.

First off the film is shot really well. I think that they might have shot it on DV-CAM (DVX-100B?) or HD but regardless it has a really nice film-like and well considered look to it. Not the usual flat and poorly lit nonsense that most recent Japanese films have suffered from-- which is a welcome relief, especially considering that it IS shot on video. The technical end is solid-- especially considering they're shooting some parts wild, out in the real world. (Eagle-eyed viewers will note that Miike can be seen in the background-- in one of opening scenes-- as a train passenger!)

What's really exciting about this movie is that Miike is playing with the filmmaking form in inventive and unique ways that reminds me of the fearless creativity of Japanese filmmakers 30 years ago. One could safely say that this is the benefit of being such a prolific filmmaker who has shot so many different types of productions. This time out, because it's a low-budget guerilla-style filmmaking, he can really play with the film language and not worry about tanking a major production.

So what's it really about? I could call it 'The children are not all right' and that would kind of explain it. I could also put it in a generic Hollywood pitch as a kind of combo of STRAW DOGS meets Schrader's HARDCORE. But it's somehow more than that, Miike and screenwriter Okawa Toshimichi have done a great job creating a world that feels like there's no moral justice and where truly only the good die young (and horribly). Aikawa stumbles upon a group of nasty teenager boys who are beating up a homeless man to an inch of his life. Unable to ignore this Aikawa intevenes and proceeds to take a beating before he seriously fucks up some kids and gets into trouble with the police. Though they are as powerful as full-grown men, they are still protected by the laws governing minors and in the eyes of the law, an adult has beat up a child and that is illegal. Stinging from the injustice of this all, Aikawa has no choice but to acccept it and go on with his life.

Unfortunately, that proves impossible. When the ring-leader of the group of hooligans, holding a grudge, kidnaps and murders Aikawa's young daughter he is punished to the full extent of the law. But the forces of fate are against Aikawa and his wife, wracked with guilt that becomes psychosis, commits suicide. Aikawa truly hits rock-bottom, moving through his life as if it were a colorless plane of meaningless existence. (Realized visually, in this section, in black and white.)

Several years later the young murderer is released from prison, has his name changed and is relocated to a rural part of Japan. When Aikawa discovers this fact he bristles at the injustice of it all: his life was devastated, but this brat has a second chance to get it right? This focuses him and he vows to hunt down the young psycho who destroyed his world and, at all costs, to kill him.

Riding with Aikawa Sho from the get-go, we are prithee to the 'real story' of what happens to him and his family. This continues through the entirety of the film (and Aikawa's in like 85% of the scenes or something) and through this we witness the hell he goes through and so it's inevitable that he's going to snap and that the film is going to end very badly for all involved. But this does not make it a revenge flick per se, but more of a film about how a psychotic 15-year-old and a middle-age man become irrevocably intertwined-- and how this leads to both their mutual destruction and affects the lives those surrounding them.

There has been some criticism of the film for dwelling in demagogury, but for me, I find that it's less pandering than it is truly a 1970s-style exploitation flick. What I mean by this is, in the same way that ROLLING THUNDER, STRAW DOGS, or even HARDCORE detail men who are living their lives, not causing harm to anyone but are compelled into action when outside forces come in and turn their worlds upside down and justice proves ellusive they're faced with the only option left: revenge. TIAYOU NO KIZU takes an issue that is occuring more and more in Japan-- youth gone out of control and violent-- and runs with it.

What is facinating about the film is that Aikawa's character is warned repeatedly by his friends and allies that, as hard as it might be to do, he should let the situation drop and move on with his life. Of course he doesn't (or can't) and the revenge ends up consuming him entirely. In this sense the movie is similar to Miike's IZO, which for all its grand guignol bloodshed and violence is ultimately a ham-fisted anti-war (anti-violence) film. TAIYOU NO KIZU can be read in the same way as an anti-violence, anti-revenge film.


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