MARCH 30 » 9:30p
NEW ENGLAND PREMIERE
2011, Japan, 114 min.
Director: Katsuhito Ishii Screenwriter: Katsuhito Ishii
Cast: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masatoshi Nagase, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Hikari Mitsushima
Official Selection Toronto International Film Festival 2011
Official Selection Fantastic Fest 2011
When failed actor Kinuta falls in with a street gang running a rigged slot-machine racket, he winds up blowing the operation to the police—owing the gang three million dollars in lost potential profits. His only source for a loan is from a black-widow garbed Yakuza banker, who demands that he work off the debt by teaming up with Joe, a veteran smuggler. Whether it’s money, drugs, weapons or even dead bodies, Joe and his leprechaun-like sidekick have a proven track record of delivering their contraband without a hitch.
Meanwhile, when Yakuza Boss Tanuma presents his criminal cohorts a shipment of cocaine stolen from the Chinese Mafia, it’s not long before a pair of deadly assassins storm the room and massacre everyone in it. Boss Tanuma’s replacement, the psychotic Kawashima demands that those responsible be brought before him. Enter our smuggling team.
Joe and Kinuta have transported human cargo before, but not, you know…alive. If the situation wasn’t bad enough, they have to deal with the young wife of Tanuma tagging along to ensure the job is done correctly. But when the nunchuckwielding killer—known only as The Vertebrae—escapes, Joe and Kinuta hatch a desperate plan to buy themselves some time to re-capture him; before the sadistic Kawashima murders everyone involved in the botched transport.
Smuggler might seem a change of pace for director Katsuhito Ishii for those familiar with such whimsical fare as Party 7, The Taste of Tea, or Funky Forest: The First Contact. But remember, Ishii is mostly known stateside as the animator responsible for the “Origin of O-Ren” segment in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Volume 1, and his latest takes place in a world more akin to his directorial debut Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl. And although the brutal torture scene that opens the film’s third act is in shocking contrast to the cartoonish violence that punctuates the rest of the film, this type of breach-of-contract between artist and audience is not uncommon in contemporary Japanese genre cinema and no more egregious than those committed by Takashi Miike in Audition or, more recently, by Sion Sono in Cold Fish. With that out of the way, it’s satisfying to say that Ishii is able to right the film from its descent into darkness and make Smuggler the demented delight that it is.
– Kevin Monahan
Ryan Wilson, Ross Morin
A man is consumed by shadows in an old house on the darkest night of the year.