Shinagawa Hiroshi follows up Slapstick Brothers with a fast-paced, light-on-its-feet caper that cruises on its bulging ensemble cast even when the convoluted plot threatens to combust under the weight of its myriad twists and double crosses.
When gambling-addicted nightclub manager Shu (Fujiwara Tetusya - Battle Royale, Death Note) loses the month's takings at the race track, hostess and aspiring actress Maria (Nakashima Mika - NANA) introduces him to notorious loan shark Madam Shibugaki. With a week to pay back his debt, Shu is easily convinced to knock off a bank, aided by barman Koji (Tanaka Koki) and loyal patron Ken (Kosugi Ryuichi). But when the trio re-groups post-heist at Club Honey Bunny, things quickly unravel and loyalties begin to shift. With Maria and club owner Hama (Kubozuka Yosuke - Ping Pong) pulling the strings from behind the scenes, hidden agendas soon come to the surface with everyone looking out for themselves.
Writer-director Shinagawa returns to the screen for the first time since 2011's impressive comedy Slapstick Brothers, and One Third proves a similarly breezy and jazz-infused affair, propelled forward by a witty script and a menagerie of larger-than-life characters. While much of the comedy comes from Shinagawa's signature clever wordplay, One Third plunders some surprisingly dark territory to earn its laughs, including bondage, cannibalism, gay porn and anal rape - and most shockingly, it all works rather well.
It is no coincidence that the film's set-up, in which the events of a heist are recounted in flashback from the gang's hideout, bears more than a passing resemblance to Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. That director's body of work is referenced overtly numerous times, with Shu professing his love for Jackie Brown, and Maria frequently comparing herself to Alabama from True Romance. However, One Third never feels derivative, and stays fresh and energetic thanks to Shinagawa's use of long, single takes and a jazz soundtrack, notably PianoJac's theme song, "Triad".
The film isn't perfect by any means. As is too often the case in mainstream Japanese cinema, One Third outstays its welcome by 20 minutes or so, during which period it tests the patience of its audience with a string of double crosses and late revelations that prove increasingly preposterous. But the performances, particularly from an atypically restrained Fujiwara and the uncommonly rakish Nakashima keep us engaged, although both are overshadowed by the villainous duo of Kubozuka's ice-pick wielding gangster and Ikehata Shinnosuke's deliciously evil loan shark, Shibugaki.
While unlikely to be a breakout international hit for Shinagawa, One Third may service the director well, with the recognisable stars bringing the film - and by extension his work - to a larger overseas audience looking for something a little offbeat. The film's twisted sense of humour may also steer it away from mainstream crowds but into the path of more adventurous festival-goers, and their efforts will be rewarded by a smart, entertaining romp that sees Fujiwara in particular, venture into surprisingly risqué territory.
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