movie like Gonin astounds and fascinates me.
Writer/director Takashi Ishii is obviously a very talented man. There are
visuals and camera framing in Gonin that just takes my breath away. The
man has a great eye for detail and knows how to set up his cameras to convey the
point that he wants conveyed. Now, if only Ishii had stuck to cinematography and
left the writing to other people, Gonin (re-titled The Five in
1998) might have been another movie entirely -- a better movie.
Gonin begins with ex-celebrity Bandai (Koichi Sato)
in debt to the local Yakuza. Bandai runs a nightclub and is trading on his
former life as a celebrity to bring in the customers, but he's so in debt to the
Yakuza, the Japanese organized crime (re: mafia), that he's considering some
pretty desperate things such as robbing the same Yakuza he owes money to. When
he decides to finally take the leap, Bandai goes on a recruiting spree, and gets
an ex-cop name Hizu, a gay hustler name Mitsuya (Masahiro Motoki), a recently
fired salaryman, and a slightly retarded young hood name Jimmy on his team. It's
a loose and dangerous crew and certainly not the greatest team in the world, but
the five does manage to pull the robbery off with very little trouble. Then
that's when things start to go wrong.
The premise of Gonin is nothing new. The recent Ocean's
11 and a number of other heist films have the same premise, and consist
of the same "recruitment drive" by the lead. It's all been done
before, but this is the first Japanese version I've seen where the actual
robbery is just an excuse for other themes, and in fact this "heist
film" is not a heist film at all.
As lensed by director Takashi Ishii, the majority of Gonin's
scenes take place in the dark, at night, or within the shadows of rooms. And as
a result, the film is mostly dark and details are hard to come by. Which might
be a good thing, since there's a lot of blood and the movie is rife with
sexual innuendos of the male variety.
Which leads me to my biggest problem with Gonin. All
events, character motivations, and plot points within Gonin leads
to one unambiguous homosexual encounter after another. That is not to say movies
with a homoerotic theme is bad, but when the bulk of your movie's
"action" stems from an obsessive need to showcase brutality in all its
form, the film begins to look like an exercise in sadomasochism. In fact, I can
find very little violence in the movie that didn't have an S&M slant to
them. People are beaten up, punched, slapped, kicked, knifed, and smashed in the
head with baseball bats for very little reason except to show it.
People's heads get slammed into concrete; baseball bats collapse in whole heads;
bathroom wall tiles are splattered with fresh and dried blood; and that's barely
scratching the surface. Indeed, one gets the sense that director Ishii gets off
on all the brutality taking place onscreen, since I'm hard pressed to find any
reasons for them being there in the first place.
Should I even go into detail about all the phallic symbols?
The wielding of the baseball bats? The sudden appearance of switchblades? Or how
about the gratuitous slaughter of female characters? One female character gets
raped to death and others, as previously mentioned, gets baseball bats in the
head. Besides the lack of female characters in the movie, the ones that do show
up all meets grisly ends. Is Ishii trying to tell us something about the female
On a purely fictional standpoint, Gonin is perhaps
the most absurd movie I've seen in a long time. The characters have no common
sense and do, say, and act in ways that just doesn't jive with the real world.
Not one single character in this film acts the way normal people acts, or
reacts, to situations that they find themselves in (gay or straight or
Forget for one moment that every male character will beat the crap
out of each other at one point or another with little to no provocation except
to satisfy the director's sadomasochistic urges. If the gratuitous display of
latent male homosexual interaction portrayed as physical aggression makes little
sense to you, then the motivations of the characters will be even more
perplexing. Did I also mention that except for the slightly retarded Jimmy,
there is not one likeable character in the whole movie? Combine unsympathetic
characters with a permeating cloud of nihilism and gloom and doom and the film
becomes unwatchable because it is no longer entertaining.
Gonin is perplexing to me because it shows that the
director is obviously a very talented man. One wonders why he doesn't just leave
mainstream film and go directly into the gay porn market where he can further
explore his interests in the fine art of sadomasochism.