Review: KEIBETSU (Ryuichi Hiroki)

Hiroki fans rejoice, because the Gods of Cinema just blessed us with an English-friendly DVD release of one of Ryuichi Hiroki's latest gems. Keibetsu (or The Egoists if you prefer the English title) is once again quality output, highlighting Hiroki's strengths but also challenging his own clichés. The result is familiar territory (especially for those who've seen a couple of Hiroki's films) with some subtle yet smart touches to keep things interesting.

Ryuichi Hiroki (Love On Sunday, Kimi no Tomodachi, New Type, Girlfriend: Please Stop The World) is known featuring strong yet often troubled female leads in his films. He is one of the few male directors who can portray a women with life-like depth. Keibetsu deviates a little from this fixed structure as Hiroki shifts his focus to the worries of a young couple rather than a single woman, though the female lead by herself still greatly resembles the women from his previous films.

A couple of years ago Hiroki revealed he was ready to take on different genres, which I guess makes Keibetsu his take on the Yakuza genre. Not that you can expect a straight-up crime flick, but all the important motives and plot points are clearly there. The film starts when young boy Kazu is thrown out of a Yakuza gang. Before he flees back home he raids a bar and takes off with lead dancer Machiko.

Even though Kazu and Machiko are clearly in love, they both want very different things in life, making their relationship impossible to sustain. Machiko feels trapped in Kazu's rural home tome while Kazu has trouble keeping a steady job to maintain his newly founded family. They separate ways, but before long they realize that they can't really live without each other either. When the Yakuza finally catches up with Kazu, things take a turn for the worse and Kazu puts up one final fight the win Machiko for him.

Visually Hiroki is getting better with each film. He keeps true to his favored HD look, but distances himself a little from the hand-held aesthetic and sneaks in more and more beautiful shots, often playing to great effect with light and scenery. While not spectacular, Keibetsu is still a very beautiful film to look at. Hiroki may be a slow grower, but you can't help but notice how he improves his technique with each successive film.

The soundtrack is a very nice mix of subtle and soothing music, not overly intrusive but still featuring some unique and differentiating touches. By itself the individual songs might not be all that remarkable, but they do tend to make themselves heard and as a whole the soundtrack leaves a very contented and comfortable feeling. A very nice bonus as many Japanese dramas tend to deliver almost identical soundtracks.

Hiroki is great with actors and once again it pays. Kengo Kora is perfect as the young and inexperienced Kazu, but it's Anne Suzuki that probably deserves the most credit. Once known as the somewhat chubby girl who only took on cute roles, she completely reinvents herself for this film and takes on a most daring and difficult part, yet pulling it off with surprising ease. The secondary roles are solid too, with Hiroki regulars Tomorowo Taguchi and Nao Omori putting in some very good performances.

Don't go in expecting a Yakuza film. Even though there are some very familiar Yakuza stereotypes, some oldskool criminal behavior and a couple of retributions, Keibetsu is first of foremost a true Hiroki drama, focusing on the characters and their ways of dealing with the problems they are presented. People craving for something completely different will no doubt feel a tinge of disappointment, but Hiroki adepts will feel right at home with his latest film.

Keibetsu turns out to be another strong addition to Hiroki's oeuvre. It's not his best film to date, but it's nice to see him try out new stuff, even when it's not all that radical. Hiroki keeps improving himself with each new film, polishing his skills and fine-tuning his processes, making sure his films can maintain the high standard he set out for himself. If you're not familiar with Hiroki it might be better to start somewhere else, but fans can rest assured that Keibetsu will appeal to them.

Watched the Hong Kong R3 DVD release by CN Entertainment, which comes with English subtitles.

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