Big Bang Love, Juvenile A

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Courtesy photo
Takashi Miike/Japan 2006

After his satisfying entry into the kaiju eiga (monster movie) genre, The Great Yokai War, Takashi Miike tackles another Japanese cult cinema staple – the women-in-prison picture. Never one for conformity, he instead turns in a homoerotic men-in-prison film full of arcane imagery and Brechtian distancing techniques.

Two new delinquents enter a futuristic juvenile detention center at the same time: Jun (Ryuhei Matsuda), who killed a gay lover he picked up in a bar, and Shiro (Masanobu Ando), a ridiculously violent repeat offender. The first half of the film details the emerging relationships and power struggles among the two new prisoners and the existing inmates, as Shiro exerts his physical power and Jun pouts and ponders.

Halfway through, Shiro is found dead. An investigator is called in and we relive much of the film’s action from different perspectives, focusing on the various powerplays and shifting relationships among the inmates. For some reason, Miike presents all of the dialogue relating to this investigation in subtitled form. Perhaps surprisingly for those familiar with Miike’s mischief-making, the murder-mystery is concluded logically.

Nothing much more than that happens. It’s a short film and frequent Miike editor Yasushi Shimamura does a respectable job tying together the flashbacks, fantasies, different perspectives and nonsensical departures into a tight, tangible whole.

The homosexual angle of the film is an interesting one. Miike has often depicted sodomy and anal intrusion as acts of sadistic violence, and some reviewers have felt uncomfortable with the conflation of homosexuality and murderous impulse. Whatever the intention, it must be noted that sex and violence of all persuasions are often inextricably linked in his films.

It seems that Miike is more interested in taking classic Japanese genres and maximizing their style to the point of abstraction, as if he is trying to create the ultimate “artsploitation” hybrid. Izo referenced samurai films from the genre’s golden age, but took the idea of swordplay as narrative to its fin-de-siecle extreme.

This time it’s the women-in-prison film, and elements like the savage beatings and the sadistic warden are present and correct. The use of the colon in the English title also seems like a nod to titles like Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. That particular film was part of a series started by Shunya Ito, who can be credited with initially pointing the genre in the direction of the artistic. Ito (perhaps inspired by Seijun Suzuki’s deconstruction of the Yakuza genre) took the conventions of the women-in-prison film and ran amuck, eschewing grittiness and titillation for an animé-style pop-art blow-out, complete with crazy camera angles, bizarre dream sequences and filtered lighting techniques.

Miike references these wild 1970s’ films with his use of stark colors, startling images and extravagant set design, but he takes their lysergic sensibilities a step further. The prison itself more resembles the set of Alien3 than any real detention center. A Mayan pyramid and a spaceship launch pad inhabit the land opposite the jail. There are scenes that dissolve into animation and characters are introduced via experimental dance routines.

But unlike some of his recent artier films like Izo, Big Bang never becomes tiresome or unrelentingly “out there”. Perhaps the police procedural aspect gives the plot a supportive structure that helps retain narrative interest. It’s fascinating to follow Miike as he chisels away at his directorial style, refining his vision and becoming more independent and unclassifiable with each project.

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A is the latest step in his conversion from prolific Yakuza/gore merchant to studied avant-garde visual artist. As long as Miike teeters on the right side of comprehensibility, his films will remain as challenging and memorable as this one.

© 2006 James Rocarols. All rights reserved.

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