Mixing your basic Yakuza yarn with deliriously over-the-top violence, this occasionally feels like a fucked-up send-up of the genre. It isn't. Adapted from Hiroshi Tanemara's manga and directed by Takashi Miike, this flick begins on a slow and ominous note, but after setting up the basic scenario in the first 15 minutes, becomes so awash in murder, revenge and empty shell casings that it makes Tarantino look like Tarkovsky. And of course, whenever you've got cute Japanese schoolgirls armed with shotguns, I'm there... It begins ten years before the primary story, with a Nioh boss named Fudoh murdering his eldest son, in order to avert a war between Yakuza clans. Little does he know, his younger son, Riki, plays voyeur to the grisly act. And a decade later, grown to almost-manhood, this kid (Shosuke Tanihara) has more on his mind than finishing his homework. In a burst of invigorating bloodshed, the heads of the Nioh gang are methodically killed by a gang of school-age assassins. There's a cup of coffee laced with caustic acid, which turns one guy's neck into an unexpected geyser. Even better, one schoolgirl-turned-stripper has the unique ability of shooting deadly darts from her vagina, and uses it to instantly lobotomize one chief. Yes, it seems that Riki has recruited his own under-aged pack of killers, complete with a training camp for half-pint hitmen (or, rather hit-kids?) who blithely play soccer with the decaped head of a teacher. Together, they're reeking vengeance on these Yakuza elder assholes. Taking the most devious aspects of Japanese cutting-edge cinema, and stirring it into a moody, emotionally-charged crime drama, this is crammed with wicked pleasures. And while Riki demonstrates his ability to slice off a woman's dress with one stroke of his samurai sword, several of his Clearasil-aged cleaners are being eliminated by an even bader-assed hitman. Ooops. They're tossed out of windows, kicked through walls, and acid is poured onto one poor girl. Meanwhile, a smidgen of hermaphrodite sex is on hand for gratuitous icing. Mind you, this is no crude romp. It may be sadistic, but it's also stylish as hell, with Miike (who made his debut in '95 with SHINJUKU KUROSHAKAI: CHINA MAFIA SENSO) knowing when to pull back from the mayhem for moments of quieter, psychological turmoil -- such as when Riki has to face off with his First-Class Bastard father. Drenched in imaginative carnage, but always maintaining its emotional foundation, FUDOH is a welcome addition to a genre too often preoccupied with slaughter over substance.
© 1997 by Steven Puchalski.