It’s difficult to say why writer/director Takashi Ishii (“Freeze Me”) decided to do a sequel to “Gonin”. While the original was a hit, moviegoers weren’t exactly rioting in the streets for a sequel, so the idea is probably as wise as letting Eminem grand marshal a Gay Pride parade. But one was made anyway, and basically it’s an awful mess.
We meet Masamichi (Ken Ogata), a loving husband and decent man, save for his bad gambling problem. When he and his wife arrive home one evening, they find the yakuza waiting for them. When Masamichi is unable to satisfy his debt, the gangsters mercilessly rape his wife while he watches helplessly. After she commits suicide due to the shame, Masamichi makes a sword and heads out for revenge. Masamichi’s crusade leads him to a gang of tough female thieves who have foiled a yakuza robbery and kept the loot for themselves. But they’ve also taken the ring Masamichi wanted; will he join with them against the brutal yakuza, or exterminate the girls himself?
The most sympathetic performance in “Gonin 2” is by Ken Ogata as the vengeful Masamichi Toyama. You can empathize with his feelings of rage and shame at what was done to the woman he loves, and his quest doesn’t just involve massacring the yakuza, it’s also to avenge the honor of his dead wife. His intentions and mission are noble in spirit, and he is a presented as a truly likeable character. Sadly, he’s never the true focus of the film, and he’s really wasted here. If his character had been the central focus of “Gonin 2”, this would have been a much better movie.
For the sequel, Ishii decided to change the gender of the bandits from male to female, probably trying to capitalize on the “Thelma and Louise” plot slant while giving male viewers some eye candy at the same time. The sex change doesn’t really make much of an impact, and the women have little individuality and are essentially minor variations on the same concept with little character history.
As a director, Ishii manages some nice visual shots, but why is it always dark and raining? While probably done to enhance the bleak tone, it also makes “Gonin 2” needlessly dreary to watch. In-between the brutal dealings onscreen and the gloomy atmosphere, the film is simply hard to sit through. There’s no art or style to it, just brutality for the sake of exploitative brutality.
Not that Ishii’s script is anything to write home about either. It’s gratuitously gory and graphically violent in a needless fashion. Violent films can be great if well done, but Ishii apparently still hasn’t gotten the knack, and should stick to the less is more routine. This is especially true in the scene where Toyama’s wife is raped; there’s really no need to go into detail. Alex Proyas handled a similar scene in “The Crow” that while brief, still made an emotional impact. Ishii should rent Proyas’ film before attempting a scene like this again.
While “Gonin 2” isn’t bad enough to make you want to gouge out your short-term memory, it certainly isn’t good. Fans of pseudo-stylized imports and overly violent movie buffs will no doubt find this to be a rather diverting 107 minutes. But anyone else looking for a good action film that is both well written and directed can look elsewhere.
Takashi Ishii (director) / Takashi Ishii (screenplay)
CAST: Ken Ogata …. Toyama Masamichi
Shinobu Ootake …. Sayuri
Kimiko Yo …. Ran
Mai Kitajima …. Chihiro