Never Give Up Review
Shortly after freeing a U.S. ambassador and his family from the clutches of revolutionaries, several members of the Special Task Force - a division of the national Defence Force - is sent on a one month survival mission in a remote wilderness as part of their routine exercise regime. However, a tragic turn of events results in a hiker and twelve villagers being brutally slaughtered, with only a young girl named Yoriko (Hiroko Yakushimaru) surviving the ordeal. Officer Ajisawa (Ken Takakura) was in charge of the unit and his immediately handed a dishonourable discharge. A year passes and Ajisawa is now working in Hajiro City, Tohoku as an insurance broker. He has also adopted Yoriko, who now suffers from amnesia and has developed psychic abilities.
Meanwhile a man is found dead in a car, with another presumed victim buried somewhere else. A reporter named Tomoko (Ryoko Nakano) is trying to find links between the murder and local gangsters led by Nakado (Mikio Narita) who seem to be operating under the jurisdiction of the Oba family: Kazunari Oba (Rentaro Mikuni) and his beloved son Naruaki (Hiroshi Tachi). This conglomerate holds reign over all the local gangs and even police and they’re about to finish construction on another business venture, which has had a negative impact on local residents. It just so happens that Ajisawa’s recent insurance investigation involves the local Yakuza who are linked the suspected death of a hostess named Akemi - wife of Izaki (Tasuo Umemiya) - which soon draws Oba’s attention. One evening Tomoko is accosted by a biker gang, but is quickly rescued by Ajisawa. He soon learns that her twin sister Misako was the hiker who was murdered twelve months ago, and he agrees to team up with her to locate the missing body of Akemi. Now drawn into the world of the Yakuza, and with a detective named Kitano (Isao Natsuyagi) hot on the trail, not to mention the Special Task Force, who are a bit pissed off, Ajisawa is going to have to rely on the skills that he had hoped never to use again, order to protect Yoriko and expose the corrupt Oba organisation.
At just fourteen years of age Hiroko Yakushimaru made her film debut appearance with Kadokawa Pictures in Junya Sato’s 1978 action flick Never Give Up, which would prove to be a prosperous beginning for the young lady who would enjoy immense popularity throughout most of the eighties. Paired alongside Yakuza tough man Ken Takakura, an interesting relationship is forged between two distinct talents representing their generations respectfully. Junya Sato and Takakura were already very familiar with one another, with the pair having worked together on several features throughout the seventies, including the original 1973 Golgo 13 and Bullet Train, so the general air of comfort is quite apparent here.
Never Give Up does indeed feel like it’s happily chugging along, embracing its pastiche nature in a rather laid back fashion. It begins in true action style, with a manly training montage and a terrorist takedown, before slowing down for a lengthy duration and then picking up around the middle of the second act as it works its way toward finishing in a no-nonsense, explosive finale full of heroic sacrifices and tanks. On that front it knows what it wants and picks no bones about setting up Ajisawa in rather conventional fashion, from being a Special Forces member, to becoming a lowly insurance broker and then being forced back into action as a one-man wrecking machine. In that respect Never Give Up does work quite well, it could just do with forgoing incidental narrative twists. It seemingly has no desire to rush through proceedings as it juggles unnecessary multiple plot strands involving investigations relating to huge conglomerates, mob leanings, police corruption, all with a little social commentary chucked in. And that’s exactly its trouble. At 143 minutes in length Never Give Up is quite the tester of patience.
Having said that, with the time he’s been readily allocated, Junya Sato does indeed allow for his primary characters to enjoy some form of arc; they’re not your typical one or two dimensional players, unlike the majority of the cast involved, but well fleshed out human beings with firm agendas and loyal ties. Ken Takakura, Hiroko Yakushimaru, Isao Natsuyagi and love interest Ryoko Nakano acquit themselves well, with Takakura carrying most of the burden as a man travelling on a path toward redemption, and Natsuyagi’s Inspector Kitano just about overcoming the clichéd cop who teams up with him role. Granted, Yakushimaru simply plays up to her image, which is exactly what producer Haruki Kadokawa wanted of her at the time, but nevertheless she’s given some odd little plot threads to work with: her character’s amnesia being well implemented, but her ability to predict the future and thus save Ajisawa on several occasions remaining a curious addition to the script, which doesn’t quite feel as if it truly belongs. But what ultimately works is that the relationships which are formed over time do carry a proper sense of catharsis and allow us to feel for our leads without things ever becoming overbearing. This may heavily detract from a feature which is inevitably being pitched as an actioner, but there’s no denying that the final act works all the better for it, with a really nice surrogate father/daughter bond. The downside, however, is that there’s little reward in the end for the viewer who has committed themselves to these people for such a lengthy duration of Hopscotch activities, with a denouement that’s likely to divide audiences; suffice it to say that anyone with a firm handle of Asian action flicks, in which the hero takes on the law or the army etc, should have little trouble adapting to their common rules.
IVL continue their Kadokawa coverage in the manner that we’ve come to expect. These discs are acceptable in that they’re cheap enough, but sadly they keep on retaining the same flaws.
We’re looking at another interlaced NTSC effort from IVL in regards to this specific series of theirs. Never Give Up at least has an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While the condition of the print is fairly nice and clean, exhibiting only slight amounts of white specks it does unfortunately suffer from problems which are a result of poor encoding. Edge Enhancement is evident, the image is softer than it should be, aliasing is present and there is a fair amount of composite artefacts and a spot of macro blocking. Brightness also appears to have been raised a little, while contrast is also is little too high. The general colour palette on the other hand is satisfactory, with good skin tones and accurate environments.
Also, rather unfortunately we’re looking at a Japanese Dolby Surround track. Dialogue is unnaturally used across all speakers, with the rears being somewhat subdued, but carrying a slight reverberation, while the central channel presents it a little cleaner. The action sequences fair quite well, but feel slightly awkward thanks to the extra channels, with machine-gun fire carrying little weight and rocket fire and explosions stressing the front surrounds with crackling, whilst leaving the rears to filter through some weak elements.
Optional English subtitles are available. Aside from a few spelling errors and a lack of commas they read well enough, with no timing issues.
The original trailer is offered as standard.
Despite an excessive run time and some needless plot devices Never Give Up is still a decent action offering, featuring a few well drawn characters which helps to ensure that it packs an equal amount of substance.