Big Bang Love, Juvenile A Review
Described by the director himself as his "masterpiece", Big Bang Love is a film which will split Miike fans down the middle. In some ways, it resembles his film Izo with its disregard for setting and concentration on poetic concerns, and the fans who turned against that film will find this piece unwelcome territory again. The director's following has been built up on the back of the ultraviolence and taboo busting of films like Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer and any number of his gangster pics - those films provide the carnage that fanboys of the perverse and the violent want. Miike's work has that attraction for some, but there has always been a strong thread of his artistic identity which has been about considering why men follow other men such as his representation of charismatic yakuza leaders and their followers in films like Agitator, Deadly Outlaw Rekka and Graveyard of Honor. Miike has never found it difficult to admire the brutal men in his stories and his films have featured many examples of man on man love whether that is in gay characters or brothers in arms whose affection is as deep as lovers.
Big Bang Love keeps to the Miike tradition of not repeating himself, and it would be hard to believe that it had been made by the same director who made such un-theatrical films as the Black Society Trilogy. If it resembles anything, it looks very much like a peculiarly lit Beckett play as the director forsakes a sense of realistic setting to mount a figurative mise-en-scene - the prison yard is a stage with six cubes as seats, and the prison laundry is a shallow pool where yellow clad prisoners tread clothes under the water. Even the warden's office is designed at a slant to the perpendicular and the shared cells are designed not as dormitories but so that the beds form spokes of a wheel for high angle shots. The costumes are also symbolic with the prisoners coming first to the prison dressed in white with the blood of their crimes on them and met by the rather camply dressed black guards. To further add to the plethora of archetypes and symbols, outside the prison there is a huge temple and a huge spaceship waiting to launch.
The story starts with the seeming murder of top dog prisoner Kizuki by his assumed lover Ariyoshi. Both men entered the prisoner on the same day after committing murders - Ariyoshi's was the killing of a man who had had sex with him. The authorities start to investigate Kizuki's death and the viewer learns of the bond that built up between these two prisoners, the fact that the governor was the husband of a woman that Kizuki raped, and the sexual intrigues that exist between the men. If Ariyoshi murdered his lover, why did he strangle him with his hands whilst there are rope marks on the neck of the body? Most importantly, what killed Kizuki - was it jealousy, revenge, the society he grew up in, or the emotions that he couldn't allow himself to feel? And why does Ariyoshi insist it was himself that did the deed?
Despite its relatively short running time, Miike packs so many ideas and images into Big Bang Love that it is difficult to fully comprehend the film in the first sitting. Usually movies about life in prison are all about capturing the drudgery and the environment, but the director is more concerned about how this as an all male environment causes the men to act and reflect. Kizuki makes his mark from moment one to become feared by the other prisoner's and top dog and it is they who assume that Ariyoshi is his lover. Ariyoshi is lost in admiration of the man he wants to be, Kizuki, and weak and bullied because of it. Other prisoners get by on sexual favours and others just want to die. For Kizuki, he admires the space ship outside as a symbol of escape from this world, and for Ariyoshi he sees the temple as a way of getting to the Heavens. If we are left to consider why Kizuki dies, it is probably because of the affection that Ariyoshi offers and the shame that throws on his existence of violence and machismo.
As usual, Miike is daring in his work both thematically and visually. He employs photography, from first timer Kaneko Masahito, which adores the young men that the camera captures. The stream of male torsos, exquisitely coiffed hair and chains in moody lighting assure the basic homoerotic setting is unavoidable whilst creating an otherworldy sense of an existential cage. Set design is minimal and abstract from the debuting art director, Nao Sasaki. Many familiar faces from Miike's films fill the cast with Kenichi Endo and Renji Ishibashi investigating the death and Ryo Ishibashi being splendidly evil as the warden, and the two central performances of Masanobu Ando and Ryuhei Mtasuda are sympathetic and carefully layered.
Miike ends the film with the shot of people leaving and entering a subway system, comparing the modern world against the timeless prison we have been part of for the whole film. The films' subtitle is 4.6 Billion Years of Love, and this ending seems to render that ironic as the busyness of modern life seems to have little place for love, much as it had caused a death by shaming the way of life in the prison. Big Bang Love may very well be his first proper love story but, true to form, it is one where tenderness kills and it is this continued refusal to fit in and offer easy resolution that is the power of Miike's work and his ongoing cinematic rebellion.
Animeigo give this singular film the same fine treatment they reserved for Graveyard of Honor which I reviewed here, with a two disc presentation. The main feature is presented at 1.85:1 with a large overscan box and the transfer is true to the extrordinary colours with some film grain and speckling visible throughout. Contrast is well managed and the image is consistently sharp with edges emphasised but not excessively. Overall this is a fine visual treatment. There is a single stereo track which lacks mastering or source imperfections, and can only be criticised for not coming in a surround mix which would have worked well during the dance sequences. The yellow English subs are well translated and clear.
Disc two houses the special features including a fine making of documentary which is compiled from cast and crew interviews and on-set footage. The documentary even homages the film in borrowing the same questioning technique of placing the camera and the viewer as the interviewer, and is surprising in its inclusion of some of the actors concerns about the original script - "shambles" and incomprehensible" are two descriptions used! The documentary starts with Miike and Hisao Maki talking about the concept of the film adaptation from the novel and moves onto the script, the casting, and the filming.
There is a photos menu which navigates through stills from the film, promotional postcards and a mini-poster. Film notes included here are rather literal and unenlightening about this enigmatic film, and we get a piece on types of Japanese ghosts as well. Biographies are provided for main crew and cast and there is some translated text from the documentary included separartely. Teasers and trailers follow, and the best extra is an interview with the director where he is unusually talkative and explains the development of the film, the inclusion of the dance sequence and the meaning of the image of the butterfly which recurs in the movie.