Rokuro Mochizuki's stylish '90s take on the yakuza films finally gets a domestic release.
Another Lonely Hitman
By Chris Hyde
May 3, 2005
If there’s any DVD company of late that has been turning over the fertile ground of the last 15 or so years of Japanese film for North American audiences, it’s Artsmagic. For months now, a steady stream of heretofore unseen films by the likes of Shinya Tsukamoto and Toshiaki Toyoda has emerged from the company, giving Region 1 viewers a chance to see some work that might otherwise go unnoticed. This time around, the company has chosen to issue a 1995 movie by Rokuro Mochizuki called Another Lonely Hitman.
The story of this one centers around one of the most time honored traditions of the yakuza cinema: the aging gangster who gets out of prison only to find that the changing times have set him — and the code he follows — against the world as it stands. The main figure is played by the fantastic Japanese actor Ryo Ishibashi (who should be recognizable to some from his appearance as the local cop in the Hollywood remake of The Grudge as well as his role in Takashi Miike’s Audition) here acting as Tachibana, a hired killer who has just been released from the slammer for a hit that we are shown before the opening credits roll.
After he is freed, Tachibana returns to his gang and casts about for something to do in their employ. Along the way he meets up with a young hooker named Yuki (Mami Sawaki) and they enter into a slightly odd May/November romance of sorts that helps deliver many of the film’s most satisfying moments. A former addict himself, Tachibana makes it his business to get Yuki to kick the habit while at the same time beginning a street campaign against junkies that is executed without the oversight of the gang’s boss. Joining with the only member of the gang who supports him in his crusade, Tachibana and his younger sidekick try to clean up Osaka a bit — much to the chagrin of their employers.
Though much of Another Lonely Hitman is informed by the obvious influences of Kinji Fukasaku and the pinku eiga films in which Mochizuki long worked, there is much that’s unconventional about the film. At times this works to the movie’s advantage, as the narrative is peppered with inventive cinematographic compositions and the occasionally tender moment that reveals the filmmaker’s sensitive and nuanced eye. At others the approach is less successful, as the pacing is a little scattershot and there are some stretches where things get a little bogged down into dullness. Still, there’s a lot here that’s valuable and interesting, and with the great dramatic turn by the movie’s star, there is easily enough of value to make it worth recommending.
Also helpful in making this DVD a quality release is the standard care paid by Artsmagic in preparing it for market. The transfer is mostly clean and pleasing to the eye, displaying Mochizuki’s varying color schemes in good fashion and presented in a proper 1:1.85 anamorphic form that shows it off well. Additionally, accompanying the film comes an excellent 25 minute interview with the director that really delves into his thoughts on Another Lonely Hitman and touches a bit on his career in general. Also providing depth here is yet another commentary by expert Tom Mes, whose chats are generally of interest, though he does occasionally wander somewhat further afield than I’d like. Closing out the extras are a few biographies and filmographies for a few of the major players in the production, a small bonus that is nonetheless a nice inclusion for posterity.
All in all, this new DVD gives an exciting view of the work of its director and though the enterprise has enough flaws to keep it from being any sort of masterpiece, it’s a fine example of a more modern take on the typical Japanese gangster film. Especially of note is the high level of acting quality, particularly the work of Ryo Ishibashi in the lead as he turns in a performance that ranks among his career best — and that is really saying something, as he is one of the finest actors of his generation. Given his proficiency with the English language, one can only hope that he gets to see more work in Hollywood, as audiences on this side of the globe deserve to see more of this great actor. But just in case that doesn’t happen, one can rest assured that there exists on North American shelves at least one representation of his brilliant skill in the form of Another Lonely Hitman.