Director: Shiraishi Kazuya
Far East Film Festival review
One of the first shots of Shiraishi Kazuya’s new yakuza thriller is a close-up of a pig’s anus as it pushes out a turd. Things don’t get much cheerier from there.
Diving phallus-first into the mob savagery of a sordidly retro 1980s Hiroshima, The Blood of Wolves is the engrossingly ugly, gleefully violent, bleakly comical and brutally effective tale of a detective who goes so far in his compromises and negotiations with horny, power-hungry gangsters that he practically becomes indistinguishable from the men he’s supposed to be trying to lock up. Is there a moral message to be learned from this story? Good God, let’s hope not.
Though the tangled details of the various power plays that drive this film’s plot may not always be easy or interesting to follow, the sleazy Detective Shogo Ogami is a charismatic and erratic enough slimeball to keep us amused for much of this horrific journey. It’s a complicated and ultimately tragic odyssey initiated by the disappearance of a local, yakuza-connected employee of a financial company – an incident that may have sown the seeds for gang war. Ogami’s investigation into the fate of this unfortunate man yields such dubious sights as our brazenly corrupt lead torturing a potential source and questioning a prostitute mid-coitus.
It could either be seen as mildly consoling or deeply disconcerting that Ogami’s consistently shady methods tend to yield results. Moving between illicit schemes with the enthusiasm and spontaneity of an undisciplined child, it’s clear that Ogami loves getting the job done, albeit not necessarily for the right reasons or through justifiable means.
It is only in the picture’s surprisingly poignant second half, when Ogami himself goes mysteriously missing, that we start to get a sense of the serious, strangely compassionate soul that hides beneath this sweaty, obnoxious exterior. Through the eyes of Ogami’s partner Hioka – the closest this film comes to a voice of reason amidst all the nihilistic grotesquery – we come to understand the tragedy of a man whose principles compel him to move through the murk of Hiroshima’s underworld, making friends with the dragon that may one day eat him.
But let’s not get too schmaltzy here. As mournful as some of the film’s later passages get, The Blood of Wolves is first and foremost a work that’s jubilantly high on the surface-thrills of debauchery, while its moments of reflection are (to steal another faecal-centric image from this film) akin to the evidence found at the bottom of a pile of pig excrement. There’s a lot of filth around this film’s sympathetic heart but to scrub away the dirt would mean scrubbing away the charm.