Saturday, August 6, 2011

Party 7 (2000)

Although more a movie containing Yakuza than a traditional Yakuza movie, Party 7, Katsuhito Ishii's 2000 followup to his frenetic Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl is possibly still worth a look - and the latter movie is exactly why I threw this one in the Netflix queue in the first place.  Despite the sometimes negative reviews of Sharkskin Man, I thought it was GREAT, and so I decided to track down director Ishii's next movie. Party 7 has seven main characters (hence the title), all introduced during a very cool, yet very long animated opening credit sequence (almost as cool as his intro for SM&PHG).  The characters are typical Ishii characters - quirky, colorful, and talkative.  If Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl was a nod to Quentin Tarantino, then Party 7 is a nod to David Lynch - if he had directed a Quentin Tarantino-written script.  Quirky Tarrantino-esque extended dialogue about nothing in particular abounds, as do strange Lynchian characters - remember David Lynch's Twin Peaks? (Or Miike's Gozu?) That's the kind of characters you find here.

The Plot.

The plot of Party 7 is simple and straightforward. Low level and bumbling Yakuza Miki Shunichiro snatched $200 million from his syndicate, and hides out at the Hotel New Mexico, a strange isolated hotel filled with quirky employees.  Soon, one after another people from his past start showing up at his hotel room door, including his hot ex-girlfriend, her pathetic weakling boyfriend, his Yakuza brother, and an assassin sent to kill them all.  Meanwhile, everything happening in his room is being watched by Captain Banana, a professional peeping tom, and his new protege, Okita Soji - although not the Bakumatsu era Samurai sword master of the same name.  This Okita Soji is a sweatervest wearing peeping tom with a bad haircut, played by Asano Tadanobu, who is the complete polar opposite of his character Samehada from Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl. All that's left is to see who gets the money, and what the heck is going on with the peeping toms in the adjacent secret room.

The Characters.

I'm sure you could make some sort of highbrow argument that each of the seven characters make up a separate Jungian archetype - heck, if I was writing a paper for college on this movie that's exactly what I'd do.  But suffice it to say, each of the seven characters is distinct in their own crazy way.  You have Okita Soji, mentioned above, played by Asano Tadanobu (Ichi the Killer, Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl).  I suspect if one was to watch Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl, and then Party 7, they probably wouldn't even realize it's the same actor, he's that different in this.  He's a nerdy creepy peeping tom who just lost his father (AKA Captain the Yellow, in a twist of Jinglish), and seems to be trying to work through his issues, but not very effectively.  Captain Banana, his father's old peeping buddy (played by the very recently deceased Harada Yoshio), tries to mentor Okita in the ways of peeping, and one of the many engaging plot points is figuring out if Soji will follow in his father's footsteps or not.  No, I'm not serious, I really didn't care all that much.

Miki Shunichiro, played by Nagase Masatoshi is essentially the main character, possibly splitting the job with Asano Tadanobu.  He's a bumbling Yakuza with a suitcase full of cash but no idea how to proceed, and seems to be living a comedy of errors. Mitsukoshi Kana, played by Kobayashi Akemi, is the smoking hot ex-girlfriend of Miki, and apple of Soji's peeping eye, or she quickly becomes so - she's a tough and pouty hot chick who tracked down Miki in his hotel room to collect on a debt.  She is quickly followed by her current boyfriend, a bowl-cut sporting skinny nerd by the name of Todohira, played by Okada Yoshinori, and Miki's Yakuza buddy Sonoda, played by Hirobe Keisuke (Also from the director's previous - and much better - film Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl), who has been sent by the boss to recover the money stolen by Miki.  Lastly, we have Wakagashira, played by Gasyuin Tatsuya, who you will also remember as yet another alum from SSM&PHG (the odd hitman character named Yamada) - mainly because he's playing the same character. He's been tasked with killing everyone.  And that's the "seven" of Party 7. There are a handful of other characters, like the strange hotel staff, the travel agent who can't keep a secret, and Okita Soji's psychiatrist, played by Yakuza film great, Osugi Ren.

The Final Verdict.

Party 7 is over 2 hours long, but it really plays like a short film - probably because the entire movie takes place mainly in two rooms.  The characters are interesting, but the story isn't - exactly how much plot, drama, and twists can you throw into a movie filmed in two rooms?  In this case, not much. (BUT on the other hand, ARAGAMI, which was also filmed in a room or two, was awesome - so it can be done). Party 7 is pointless on its own, it is more like one act of a Tarrantino movie (albeit a very long act).  Is is quirky?  Yes.  But quirky David Lynchian characters with Tarrantino-esque dialogue a movie it does not make.  Now that I think about it, it might make for an interesting stage play, though.  If you like quirky movies, and you liked SSM&PHG, you might like this - stress on the might. Despite the length of the film, it doesn't feel that long, again probably because the sets or situation really never changes.  If it felt any longer, I probably would have been forced to shut it off.  The colorful characters are great, but in this case the sum of the parts is greater than the actual whole - good characters in a less good movie.

Realistically, although it's worth a look for those interested, I can't recommend it for just anyone who isn't into quirky movies and characters. Granted, the dialogue is pretty good, and can be outright funny, but people who expect a deep plot with twists and turns, and well, a meaningful plot most of all, should probably just plain skip this one. There are little glimpses here and there of greatness, but it just doesn't hold. And that is quite a disappointment after director Ishii's fast paced, colorful and crazy music video movie SSM&PHG.  It's better than the most B of B movies like Blood or the Tokyo Mafia series, but even Wild Criminal is a little more interesting - maybe if only because it's more conventional.  Party 7 is not for everyone, but film nerds and people who like movies with quirky characters should get a kick out of it.

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