From Writer/Director Takashi Ishii comes Gonin, a Japanese Crime film that boasts a fine selection of Japanese actors including the obvious draw of Takeshi Kitano although anyone expecting to see him featured throughout the film may be slightly disappointed. Known in the US as 'The Five' Ishii's film is based around the self-made nightclub owner, Bandai (Koichi Sato), whose success is on the decline and as such he owes the local Yakuza a large sum of money. Through a selection of both chance and deliberate encounters Bandai and four other socially and financially lacking individuals choose to rob the local Yakuza, and in the process bag themselves 100-million Yen. Unfortunately things do not go quite as planned and the Yakuza are not best pleased, bringing in two professional killers (one of whom is played by Takeshi Kitano, entering into the fray approximately 1 hour into the proceedings) to quickly and efficiently dispose of 'The Five'.
The accomplished script fleshes out each of 'The Five' in due course throughout the film, all of whom are portrayed by their respective actors in a style that fits the characters well. From the financially troubled home life of Ogiwaru, the disgraced detective Hizu whose intentions are revealed in the late stages of the film, to the Thailand immigrant Jimmy attempting to get back home and the confused Mitsuya who tags along seemingly to be with Bandai each of 'The Five' have reason enough to take part in the bold robbery and despite their failings all are capable of maintaining their honour even when exposed to some extreme situations. Each of 'The Five's stories come to a variety of conclusions in the action packed final 30-minutes, the results of which include some quite stark revelations that are both compelling and often quite horrific to watch as they unfold. The horrific scenes of note contain some quite brutal violence that although not always shown thanks to the wonderful visual style of director Takashi Ishii (which is a pleasure to witness throughout the film) is always made known to the viewer with several scenes managing to disturb as much as they do compel you to watch.
A joy to watch Gonin was a film that I was originally drawn to thanks to the presence of Takeshi Kitano and while he certainly adds to the film thanks to his quite superb portrayal as one of the professional killers it is the fine line-up of actors as a whole and the visual storytelling style of Ishii that makes Gonin such a compelling and therefore highly recommended watch.
Presented in Non-Anamorphic 1:85:1 widescreen MIA have sourced another clean print but like Violent Cop it suffers from an overly soft picture which results in slightly washed out colours and blacks that are not always quite black due to a sometimes grey or blue hue. Detail is occasionally quite high, with some of the more artistic (and probably processed) shots coming out quite well (with increased colour and black re-production also present) but for the most part detail levels are distressingly average in both the foreground and background with fine detail in backgrounds all but lost. Managing to look far better than a VHS release of this title could ever manage the quality on offer here still falls far short of what I would like to have seen from this release.
MIA have again provided us with a bog-standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio track of the original Japanese Language. Much like the audio found on MIAs Violent Cop release this DD2.0 track is not exactly exceptionally crisp but is quite adequate for casual viewing. The English subtitles are much better than those found on the Violent Cop release for the simple fact that MIA have subtitled almost every line of dialogue but there are still problems to be found. First and foremost is that a small portion of the subtitles (scattered throughout the film) appear and disappear so fast that they are merely a white flash on the bottom of the screen and even with the aid of a jog shuttle they are all but impossible to read! Secondly, the included 16:9 Subtitle option is a tad annoying in that subtitles still appear too far down on a Widescreen owners screen while in both the 16:9 and 4:3 subtitle settings some lines trail off to the right of your screen, again leaving you to make an informed guess as to the final words in a sentence.
Like the other release on the Tokyo Bullets label, Violent Cop, this disc features a bare minimum of extra features. The only sections of any real interest are those that include the two original Theatrical Trailers for Gonin and the Theatrical Trailers for forthcoming/already available Tokyo Bullets releases, Violent Cop, Sonatine, Boiling Point and Black Angel, all of which are sadly presented without English subtitles so you can only enjoy the images. Other extras include filmographies for the main actors and the director, who along with Kitano gets a very short biography. The final extra feature is a 20-picture Photo Gallery that barely warrants a look.
Another fine Japanese film is given yet another lacklustre R2 DVD release and sadly it would appear that MIA have no aspirations to even attempt to better the efforts of Tartan Home Video. Hopefully we can look forward to a more inspired effort when Tartan release their second wave of Tokyo Bullets titles.