Monday, July 09, 2012

Japan Cuts ’12 & NYAFF ’12: Tokyo Playboy Club

Do not think retro-hipness with regards to this Shinjuku hostess club.  Think more along the lines of the quickly canceled NBC TV show, squalidly trading off a rapidly fading brand name.  It is a decidedly low-rent establishment, but that is how small-time gangster Seikichi gets by.  However, a whole mess is trouble is headed towards the seedy night spot in Yôsuke Okuda’s Tokyo Playboy Club (trailer here), which screens as a co-presentation of the 2012 Japan Cuts and New York Asian film festivals.

A stoic hardnose like Katsutoshi does not belong at Seikichi’s dive, but after sort of accidentally killing someone at his last straight gig, the not really reformed gangster needs to lie low in Tokyo for a spell.  He ought to be at the right place for that, but this is a chaotic time at the TPC.  Seikichi’s goofer Takahiro made off with the petty cash, only to be double-crossed by a pregnant lover.  Now he and his live-in girlfriend Eriko are stuck working off the debt.  Katsutoshi does not help matters much by picking fights with Yakuza lieutenants.  This means more tribute must be paid.  At this point, things really start to get complicated for the TPC proprietor and his staff.

Nao Ohmori of Ichi the Killer fame is all kinds of bad as Katsutoshi.  He looks like existential alienation walking.  Yet, he slowly develops some hard-earned chemistry with Asami Usuda’s Eriko.  Despite being required to spend about a third of the film in near catatonia, she also nicely handles some intriguing moments of deep self-awareness.  Raising sleaziness to new heights, Ken Mitsuishi’s oily turn as Seikichi is also certainly effective, in a contempt-inspiring way. 

Unfortunately, Okuda’s pacing is not nearly as breakneck as it ought to be, while he is hell-bent on undercutting any lasting sense of emotional payoff.  Frankly, it seems like he is too enamored with this sordid world, refusing to allow any of its characters to escape.  Ultimately, TPC is a film with several wickedly clever scenes that all hang together rather awkwardly.  Recommended more for committed aficionados of Japanese Yakuza and crime films than general patrons of Japanese cinema, Tokyo Playboy Club screens this Saturday (7/14) at the Japan Society as a joint presentation of the 2012 Japan Cuts and the New York Asian film festivals.