Takahiro Ishihara, writer-director-cinematographer-editor of this year's Yubari Grand Prix winner OSAKA VIOLENCE builds effectively on the critical acclaim that was awarded him last year with his feature debut, VIOLENCE PM. His sophomore effort follows a young adolescent, who moves in with a local gangster after his father is injured at work, only for their small community to be brutally disrupted by the arrival of a murderous thug fresh out of prison.
Ishihara employs a cast of unknown, largely non-professional actors in his film, recruited as much for their unique looks as their acting abilities, with understandably mixed results. There are strong lead performances from the principle gangsters, but some of the younger cast lack the experience to bring to the screen the degree of realism for which the film is clearly aiming. The film's visual aesthetic is also somewhat flat and lacks a layer of noirish grime that would have helped the film establish its moody tone, despite the authenticity of being shot on location in the rural suburbs surrounding Osaka.
However, despite these flaws, OSAKA VIOLENCE still manages to grab your attention and draw you into its world of crime and abuse both at home and on the streets. Ishihara's screenplay is the film's great strength, creating a number of memorable characters in a story of hard-fought survival and independence. Most notable among these is the central gangster patriarch. We are first introduced to this self-appointed enforcer as he harasses local restaurant owners and bathhouse proprietors, shaking them down for protection money with the threat of violence or defecating in the pool. However, he is later revealed to be a far more complex and sympathetic character, who opens up his home as a refuge for wayward youngsters from the surrounding neighbourhood. Under the management of his teenage daughter, the household is run by the mantra "accept all visitors and hold nobody back from leaving", which could not differ more from the manner in which he conducts his business. Both sides of this world are thrown into turmoil when a vicious murderer returns to the town after a spell inside, looking to make his mark both in the community and the lives of his two young children.
OSAKA VIOLENCE is a film well worth seeking out, but one which is unlikely to find much distribution outside of the more independently spirited festivals. At this juncture it is tempting to suggest that with his 2 million yen prize money, Ishihara attempt to remake his film with a more accomplished cinematographer who could instill the film with a grittier, edgier visual style that would better serve the narrative, as well as more experienced actors in a few key roles. But regardless of the film's limitations it should serve as a notable calling card for Ishihara's work further afield and whatever he opts to produce this year with his much expanded budget already has me excited for Yubari 2013.
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