Memorable? More like Gonin 60 seconds...
I'm always a tad worried when DVDs sport bold quotations without qualifying the source, and even more so when they proclaim such extravagant cliches as "X is Japan's answer to Quentin Tarantino". Quite what Quentin's question to the Nippon nation was we may never know, but here the "X" in question is Takashi Ishii, and the movie sporting his name like a suspiciously whiffy cloak is Gonin. When the first wave of popular Japanese imports rode the cheap DVD wave Westward a couple of years back, Gonin was at the spearhead alongside the likes of The Score and a number of Takeshi Kitano-starrers. Indeed Gonin's biggest claim to fame seems to be that it features an extended cameo from Takeshi san, and boy do the distributors want you to know it. Unfortunately for you and I, 'Beat' himself aside Gonin is thoroughly on-to-below par fare.
The proclamation of Tarantino-ism seems to stem solely from the movie's concept of a disparate band of relative strangers coming together to pull off a robbery. Reservoir Dogs might not be a million miles away plot-wise, but it's here the similarities end with Ishii's directorial style a world away from QT's dialogue-driven character embelishment. The strangers in question here are certainly an odd bunch; a hoodlum, a downtrodden ex-cop, an intellectually-challenged nutter, a gay hustler and a slightly unstable family man. Despite Gonin's fairly steady build, however, these potentially dynamite protagonists are paid only lip service in the run-up to the pivotal theft of 100 million Yen from a Yakuza bigwig who is also the boss of main character Bandai (Koichi Sato).
The second half of the movie is focussed on said boss' retribution via the services of one-eyed hitman Kyoya (Kitano) who, clearly not a fan of character expansion either, makes short and mostly clinical work of mopping up our anti-heroes. Just as well then that in order to compensate for this director Ishii at least affords us a marginal ammount of style and a matter-of-fact sensibility in violence to which viewers of Takeshi Kitano's own gangster classics will be comfortably accustomed. it's scant consolation, but at the very least it stops the viewer from nodding off (actually that's a lie; I did fall asleep, but mostly due to the fact I made the mistake of lying down on the sofa and turning up the central heating at midnight).
As if acknowledging it's shortcomings, Gonin clumsily attempts to pad out it's last hour with some oddly misplaced humour (I say this even though I've seen enough Eastern cinema to suggest that one man's "misplacement" may be another one's dead-centre gag), a weak Mexican stand-off and the eleventh hour introduction of a sub plot revelation that Bandai and Mitsuya (the hustler) are in love. Just as it proves to be too late for one of our two lovebirds, so it is for the movie too with too many potentially interesting developments thrown into the second half as a half-hearted rescue attempt.
Loving as I do the particular eccentricities of Japanese cinema, I find it difficult to condemn something so successful in it's homeland that also features the man Kitano, but condemn it I must. From start to finish the movie exudes an air of half-finished, half-arsed assembly that makes it difficult to assess wether the problem lies chiefly in writing or direction. Certainly the players are all more than adequate, but they're being failed by either the director or the script, and perhaps more likely a little bit of both. Perhaps rather than haul Kitano in for brief thespian duties Ishii might have swapped him the director's chair, as Takeshi san has demonstrated on many occasions exactly how this sort of material should be handled with just the right mixture of comedy, character and shock value.
Ultimately Gonin fails to live up to the hype it's packaging would seek to ensnare you with. Instead it ends up a very good lesson in the dangers of assuming everything Japanese and Kitano-related must be a sure-fire Western success. While it may do a number of minor things right, this is a movie that fumbles the ball on pretty much every scoring opportunity, and as such proves to be a major disappointment. The central conceit may be old hat, but many recent movies have taken a similar theme and made it fresh. This is not one of them.
Disko awards Gonin 2 out of 5 Floyd Flivx Units
Masahiro Motoki (Mitsuya)
Jinpachi Nezu (Hizu)
Kippei Shiina (Jimmy)
Naoto Takenaka (Ogiwara)