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Thursday, October 6, 2016

BOILING POINT -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Japanese actor and comedian Takeshi Kitano (popularly known as "Beat" Takeshi) had already appeared in such films as MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE and had his own TV show, "Takeshi's Castle", which was later redubbed for American television as "MXC" or "Most Extreme Elimination Challenge" when, in 1989, he made his directing debut with the bloody action thriller VIOLENT COP, playing the lead role as well. 

Not happy with his lack of creative control on the project, he considered his next film, BOILING POINT (1990), to be sort of a second directorial debut.  And despite sharing the same tendency towards sudden, graphic violence, they're very different movies.

BOILING POINT begins, strangely enough, as a pleasantly amusing, very bucolic slice-of-life tale about a city-league baseball team in Japan that hasn't scored a single point in several games.  The setting is a less-populated and rather seedy corner of the city where regular guys play on a dusty little diamond and their manager, Mr. Iguchi, is an ex-Yakuza who seems like a regular guy himself aside from a short temper and a tendency toward sudden bursts of violence when crossed.

A timid sad-sack named Masaki (Masahiko Ono), who wears the uniform but seems detached from everything, slowly learns to assert himself in baby steps.  After being advised to practice his swing a hundred times a day, he finally hits a home run while pinch-hitting but is called out when he sprints past the other base runner.  He's trying, both on the ball field and in life, but not always with a great deal of finesse.

When Masaki runs afoul of the local Yakuza, Mr. Iguchi tries to intervene but finds that he has fallen out of favor with his former gang and is beaten severely.  Masaki and his friend Akira (Makoto Ashikawa, the comical rookie in VIOLENT COP) travel to Okinawa to buy a gun so that Mr. Iguchi can avenge himself.  While there, they meet a psychopathic gangster named Uehara (Takeshi), also looking for revenge against the Yakuza, who takes a liking to them. 

This is where the clash between slice-of-life story and bloody gangster flick becomes most interesting.  While not exactly "artsy" compared to VIOLENT COP, we do find Kitano indulging himself a lot more in languid, thoughtful character vignettes (Masaki's shy interactions with his new girlfriend Sayaka are charming) that are enjoyable for their own sake while slowly nudging the story along.

At the same time, the film lingers over scenes of the group, which now includes Uehara's toady and a couple of girls they're picked up in a bar, engaging in some pretty unsavory activities with Masaki and Akira reluctantly swept along.

Takeshi's boorish gangster takes center stage as a sort of Id monster roiling in his own worst impulses toward physical violence and casual sadism.  He loves to break bottles over people's heads and abuse his hapless girlfriend as well as sexually assaulting members of either sex.

One of the film's most stunning action scenes involves him, a roomful of Yakuza, and a machine gun hidden in a bouquet of long-stemmed wildflowers. Takeshi loves to stage such scenes of violence and retribution and there are numerous examples of this, to varying degrees, throughout the story.

This culminates in a fiery resolution to Mr. Iguchi's Yakuza problem that's cathartic not only for us but also for Masaki, who has finally learned how to hit the occasional home run in life as well as in baseball.

The Blu-ray from Film Movement Classics is in 1.85:1 widescreen and stereo with a Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles.  In addition to trailers for this and other Film Movement Classics releases, there's a bonus featurette entitled "Okinawa Days: Takeshi's Second Debut" which features members of the original cast remininiscing about making the movie. An attractive illustrated booklet containing an essay by author and Asian film expert Tom Vick is included with the disc.

BOILING POINT is unique in that it's neither a straight-up coming-of-age story nor a total gangland violence fest, yet the two elements are so deftly intertwined in Takeshi's screenplay and in his skillful handling of it as director that the film manages to satisfy on both counts.

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