Mikihiko Bandai (Kôichi Satô) is a nightclub owner in Japan who has been feeling the pinch lately thanks to the pressures of the city's local Yakuza on his business, making demands on his profits they want a cut of for protection money. One night, he is at the baseball practice ground, finding the activity frustratingly difficult when he has an altercation with a salaryman in the next section, and this follows him outside where he gets into a brief but bloody fistfight with him. Feeling guilty when he knocks the man down, Bandai gives him a lift, which takes them back to his nightclub and another altercation, this time with Junichi Mitsuya (Masahiro Motoki), a gay gangster of low level crime...
Gonin would be Takashi Ishii's best-known movie, and if you want evidence of that look to its success which spawned an almost immediate sequel, and a years later third instalment as he tried to recapture his old glories. This was the one to see, however, a gangster flick that was arranged like a black comedy, yet in practice was more tragic as we watch Bandai and the team he has assembled to battle the Yakuza stumble and fall in their scheme to put one over on them. The idea seems simple enough: rob the boss they owe money to, then pay him with the cash they have stolen, and he will be none the wiser. This plan reckons without the deep flaws in the characters of the robbers.
Which was the theme, the old best laid plans yarn that heist movies tended to adhere to here offered a Japanese flavour, meaning deapan humour that may not even be detectable, and plenty of bloody violence as everyone's chickens came home to roost. Bandai was a sympathetic type anyway, though that was largely thanks to everyone else being so hostile towards him, therefore his big mistake is trying to do unto others as they are doing to him, especially when what others are doing is nothing good or decent. Sometimes the well-known maxim "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" simply does not apply, and this moral lapse doesn't solely doom our hapless hero.
Adding an unusual accent on the crime saga material was that Bandai and Mitsuya fall in love, despite Mitsuya trying to murder him in the first quarter hour of the story which he then shrugs off as he takes off all his clothes and wanders around Bandai's apartment looking for the shower. Thus is apparently all it takes to arouse the nightclub owner's romantic interest, though Ishii didn't go overboard with it, there were very few scenes of actual affection between them, and they barely kissed until the last half hour when the stakes have been raised so much that they need one grand gesture to share before they both go down fighting. And what do you know, one of the hitmen they are fighting is Takeshi Kitano.
Takeshi was featured prominently in the project's advertising, yet he was not really the main star; in fact, this was closer to an ensemble effort by the cast, despite the love affair being supposedly central to the heart of the plot. He appeared in typically straight-faced style, going about the task of murder for profit with his own unique presence lending an even more eccentric tone to what was fairly unconventional as it stood, and as he shared the final scene it was he you may remember more than the two ostensible leads. There was a determinedly offbeat mood to Gonin that Japan fans would probably respond to, but if you were new to Yakuza movies this was debatably not a good choice to start with, as it took some getting used to with its assembly of sequences prompting the query, is this supposed to be funny? You imagine Ishii wouldn't be averse to generating laughter, but there was a sincerity to the ultimate personal disasters on display that was disarming. Music by Gorô Yasukawa.
Japanese writer/director who gained attention in the 1970s as a comic book artist. Ishii's first work in the film industry was as a scriptwriter, penning a variety of fantasy/sci-fi/horror flicks throughout the 80s, including the notorious gore flick Evil Dead Trap. Began directing in 1988 - his stylish and often shocking films are heavily influenced by adult manga strips, the most notable examples being the Black Angel films, bloody crime thrillers Gonin, Gonin 2 and Gonin Saga and rape revenge drama Freeze Me.