"Definitely the best Japanese film made in the last ten years. Kitano just can't touch this."
Kamikaze Taxi (2001)
Director: Masato Harada
Producer: Susumu Tanaka
Writer: Masato Harada
Cast: Kazua Takahashi, Mickey Curtis, Shoji Yakuso
Running Time: 138 min.
Plot: A Peruvian-raised, Japanese cab driver, Kantake--who's been deemed a second-class citizen since his return to his own native land--experiences a dramatic lifestyle change when he hooks up with, and sets out on an odyssey with a yakuza trainee, Tatsuo, who has just robbed an aging, corrupt politician of a $2 million stash.
LEN'S REVIEW: Masato Harada's at it again. After the excellent Ko-Gals, he takes an entirely different viewpoint on the Japanese culture. This time he tells the tale of friendship between two characters that have nothing in common except for their involvement in violence. And before I continue with this review, I'll say one thing. See this film. Seriously, everyone should try to see this movie, as this is probably one of the finest japanese films since Rashomon.
Now, with that out of the way, let's continue with the story. Tatsuo is a young yakuza thug, who's given the task of getting prostitutes for a corrupt politician, Domon, who's hobbies include beating women amongst other things. As his girlfriend dies after her encounter with the sleazy politician, Tatsuo gathers a posse of young gangsters and robs Domon's mansion to get even with him. The end result is a bloodbath, with Tatsuo being the only survivor. Left with a sackload of cash and a burning desire for revenge, he starts a personal war against his former Yakuza superiors. Enlisting the help of a japanese born Peruvian Taxi Driver with a shady past, he starts his odysseia that might ultimately lead to his demise.
This film rocks. I'm not just saying this because I'm a fan of Masato Harada, but because this film is very near perfection on every level. This is a film of many layers, and they all work brilliantly. One might first see this as a very traditional road movie, and that's the core of this film most certainly. On the other hand, Kamikaze Taxi can be seen as satire on the state of Japan, and more specifically on the immigrant situation and the xenophobia inherit in the system. But then again, Kamikaze Taxi is also a hugely entertaining film, with comedic elements familiar to those who have seen Harada's earlier works.
Now, the script is great, and I really like Masato Harada's direction, as the pacing is pretty much perfect for a film like this. It starts off furiously, then slows down as Tatsuo meets the cab driver and the film becomes a tranquil road movie...at least for awhile. I think this is what works especially well. Kamikaze Taxi is constantly fresh, and every scene brings something completely new (for example, Tatsuo's cocaine fuelled kamikaze attack on the Yakuza was a joy to behold while still keeping the audience guessing what'll happen next).
And the magnificent cast certainly helps. I hadn't heard of Kazuya Takahashi (Tatsuo) before, but he did very well and really gave life to his fairly standard dumb yakuza thug. As expected though, the real star of the film is the magnificent Koji Yakusho as the cab driver. His portrayal of an immigrant from Peru with japanese roots who has seen too much during his life seemed hauntingly realistic at times, and the way his personal issues force him to fight someone else's fight was portrayed beautifully by Koji Yakusho. With any other actor as the cab driver, I doubt this film would've worked even half as well, as Koji Yakusho's performance is definitely one of the greatest things about this film. Then again, the caliber of his performance was to be expected, as Koji Yakusho generally does wonderful work in whatever film he's involved in.
All in all, a near perfect film, and definitely one of the best films I've ever seen. Definitely the best Japanese film made in the last ten years. Kitano just can't touch this.
LEN'S RATING: 10/10