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Blues Harp 1998
Description: Ambitious yakuza Kenji befriends harmonica-playing bartender Chuji, who moonlights as a part-time drug-dealer for the opposing gang. Their friendship is threatened by Kenji's plans for advancement, as well as by his bodyguards growing jealousy of Chuji.
Released: 15 Jul 1998 Director: Takashi Miike Writers: Toshihiko Matsuo (screenplay), Toshiyuki Morioka (screenplay) Actors: Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Seiichi Tanabe, Saori Sekino, Mickey Curtis Genres: Crime, Drama, Music, Romance
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Blues Harp Reviews:

This movie had a strong impact on me. I'm still somewhat fresh to the yakuza movie genre, but it instantly became one of my favourite films, perhaps my favourite Takashi Miike movie I have seen so far.It doesn't really compare to Miike's more popular movies because it fits more neatly in to the yakuza and crime categories than Miike's better known stylized shocker exploitation yakuza/psycho films; however, it does have a nice deal of the visual style, much of the blood and carnage and some of the blistering action we are accustomed to in Miike's films. And, like most Miike films, it has a cool intro. Also, like most of Miike's greatest films, it has the coolest and greatest acting (and actors) you are likely to see in any crime film. Like we have come to expect from Miike films, it has some nice mafia boss characters and one or two characters that seem like they are from outer zone (though here these eccentrics are more subtle and have less screen time here than in his more popular films).I more or less liked Miike's well-known items like Ichi the Assassin and Dead or Alive (especially DOA's first 10 mins or so) and I especially liked Fudoh and Audition, but I have to tell I prefer this type of movie more because it has so much soul and grit and it feels real. The storyline has a classic feel to it like something out of the more edgy movie noirs or some of the greatest gritty 1970s crime/druggie movies. Unlike in most any another Takashi Miike movie I have seen so far, you now care about the lead characters in this film.Of course I won't divulge the entire story, but I set it up below. The plot is a tiny bit complicated, though it is one one of the greatest stories I have ever come across in a crime film (my set-up below doesn't do it justice). Don't read the two paragraphs below if you prefer to know as tiny about the storyline as possible.STORY SET-UPStory is about a young Okinawa drug dealer called Chuji who also works at a bar that details local Japanese rock and roll bands. But Chuji is also a gifted harmonica player, which he learned to enjoy as a young man out of loneliness and boredom while his prostitute mother turned tricks. While supporting a young and ambitious yakuza called Kenji elude the capture of the gang headed by Chuji's boss, Chuji also incidentally meets a cute woman who soon becomes his girlfriend. She, as well as one of the leaders of one of the bands performing at the bar, encourages Chuji to enjoy harmonica with his band. After only one performance, Chuji is immediately famous at the bar for his blues harp skills. His talent soon attracts the attention of a record producer. It looks like Chuji might no longer have to deal drugs, but... Kenji, the yakuza formerly on the run, rewards Chuji for his support at eluding capture and certain execution earlier. The two become mates -- though, unbeknownst to Chuji, Kenji's affection for him is more than just friendly. But because they every work for rival gangs, and because Kenji's yakuza ambitions exceed his status and his closeted homosexuality offends certain folks close to him, Kenji's life is on the line, and Chuji obliviously and unwittingly gets tangled up in a yakuza war method over his head.END OF STORY SET-UPLike I started to mention earlier, the storyline and characters have such a classic feel to them that I wonder if there are any classic noirs or 70s crime movies with related plots. If so, I'm curious to search out what they are. But I suspect the storyline probably feels so classic just because it is so good. Some Miike movies are confusing, often deliberately so, and I usually appreciate his narrative haphazardness. But here, unexpectedly, we're treated to something of a classic crime tale. I know I am overusing the word "classic," but by the end of the movie I felt like Charles Dickens should have written the same primary plot though in a very various style and various characters of course.I wish to call it a crime masterpiece; but I feel like it's a bit premature for me to create such a declaration since I need to see some more movies first -- even more Takashi Miike movies since he gotta be one of the most prolific directors in the history of detail filmmaking. But unlike most crime films which often tend to be flashy and filled with a lot of attitude and crammed with forgettable action, this movie has an emotional depth to it that most anyone can relate to (in addition to all the cool shoot outs, etc.). Many girls would like this movie too because there is a really good, and very simple, love storyline at the center of the movie that is quite sweet; and the lead female hero genuinely loves and devotes herself to Chuji as he does to her as well. This is how young love could be. This movie busts the gut and excites the senses; but it also rattles the soul and pierces the heart. Many of the greatest Japanese filmmakers frequently seem to have a talent for combining on screen action and physicality with a depth of emotion and feeling that seems rare in filmmakers (and screenwriters) in another nations. Takashi Miike struts his items here in this regard. A movie like this reminds me of why I love Japanese films so much and why I think Japanese movie in general is a treasure chest still waiting to be discovered -- maybe even by many Japanese folks themselves as well.I am not quite yet ready to call it a crime masterpiece. I at least need to see some more Takashi Miike movies first. But damn if I really wish to call it a crime masterpiece. Incidentally, it might even be a nice storyline about love too. Nah - Takashi Miike couldn't be capable of a nice love storyline even if it does have gangsters, guns and bullets. Should he?


I wouldn't bracket this film with the surreal items that Miike has allow loose on an unsuspecting public. Nor would I zone it in the shootemup yakuza bloodbath series. It belongs with the reflective hero pieces like Rainy Dog and Ley Lines, and has a fair bit in common with the gaijin outcast anti-heroes in Town of Lost Souls. Chuji is a victim of history and circumstance. We join him for the poignant finale of his brief, but tragic existence. He's a musical supernova in his limited beatbar universe, and a smalltime dealer in the (slightly) wider world. His life becomes entwined with an ambitious yakuza kiddie(Daisuke Ijima), whose plans are bigger than his brains. With predictably dire results. The feeling of impending doom is tempered by the almost punkish nihilism of the main players. It's Miike testing with that inevitable mortality thing again. Beautifully underplayed, with some blatant plugs for the Japanese indie melody scene, this film doesn't set out out to shock or confuse. It limits its ambition to saying a melancholy story, and as a result, it's much closer to a righteous Kurosawa/Kitano vibe than the Black Society Trilogy.Hiroyuki Ikeuchi is perfect as Chuji, the semi-gaijin harp user whose pappy may or may not have been a Yankee serviceman stationed in Okinawa. Or a road drunk. Or both. His mother is a prostitute. So it's fairly clear from the prologue that Chuji has had all the dubious benefits of a dysfunctional upbringing. Ikeuchi is effortlessly convincing throughout. I hope he gets plenty of work on the basis of his performance in this very neat tiny drama.


Takashi Miike´s 1998 movie BLUES HARP is not as outrageous as FUDOH or DEAD OR ALIVE and not as disturbing and shocking as AUDITION or VISITOR Q. It isn´t a gory bloodbath like ICHI THE KILLER. It is a Yakuza movie very much along the lines of CHINESE MAFIA SEASON, RAINY DOG and LEY LINES.(SPOILERS!) The two main protagonists are Chuji, a half-Black and Kenji, an upstart Yakuza. Chuji works at a club and one night saves Kenji´s life when he is being chased by rivaling gangsters. The two become friends. But there is problem on the horizon. Kenji conspires to replace his boss with the support the boss´s mistress. And Kenji´s bodyguard becomes murderously jealous of Kenji´s love for Chuji (the movie is anything but subtle with the homoerotic overtones). I won´t say anything more but the ending is both pretty and tragic. (END SPOILERS)BLUES HARP is a really nice film. I was once again amazed how many of my favourite movies are from Miike-san. BLUES HARP has actually joined them. The actors are great, the cinematography is superb (once again by HANA BI cinematographer and longtime Miike collaborator Hideo Yamamoto) and most importantly what happens on-screen feels REAL. You receive the feeling that true folks lead these kinds of life all the time and (in variations) all over the world. And even though we are dealing with criminals here Miike portrays them with what seems like genuine affection, even love while never, NEVER, glorifying the Yakuza lifestyle. One gets the feeling he really knows what he is making movies about and considering his past that is most probably true. Whatever Miike does in the future I´ll be there and each movie lover could hold an eye on this man.



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