New York Premiere
115 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Directed by: Katsuhito Ishii
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masatoshi Nagase, Hikari Mitsushima, Ando Masanobu
Thursday, July 12 @ 8:15pm (buy tickets)
If there’s one thing that’s part of the international language these days, it’s debt. So it’s easy to understand the plight of poor Kinuta, a struggling actor who gets in way over his head, borrowing money all over the place as he pursues his thespian dreams. In a sick twist of fate, his debts are sold to a company which agrees to forgive his debts if he agrees to work them off, and when he’s told that the work is a moving job he’s more than a little relieved. He shouldn’t be. He’s actually just been made a “smuggler,” part of an underground economy of debt slaves who do dirty work for the yakuza. Black market share croppers, he and his crew lug dead bodies to shallow graves, bag body parts, and drag them to the incinerator when hits go wrong. It’s brutal, unrewarding, tension-inducing work, but bit by bit Kinuta is slowly chipping away at that debt.
Then, however, things take a really bad turn. He and his two colleagues manage to run afoul of a pair of hitmen (who are also lovers), Vertebrae (Ando Masanobu) and Viscera (Ryushin Tei), two deadly psychopaths involved in a Japanese/Chinese mob war. Through a series of highly stylized, downright Kabuki-esque action sequences, Kinuta finds himself standing in for Vertebrae and getting brutally tortured in his place as they try to cover up one of their many screw-ups. But what doesn’t kill Kinuta makes him stronger and he discovers that he’s chaning from the spineless, gambling-addicted actor he was, to becoming a man with a mission.
Katsuhito Ishii started his career making the “cooler than you” movie Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl which was all ironic postures, and hipster snark. But he followed it up with two of the most popular movies we’ve ever shown at NYAFF, A Taste of Tea and Funky Forest: The First Contact, both of them warm, surreal, human-sized comedies that shouldn’t work (because they’re so insane) but that do work (because they’re so awesome). With SMUGGLER he’s doing something in between, returning to a crime story but this time without the Tarantino-esque hepcat vibe. The result is the most mainstream, and satisfying, movie of his career.