I watched the film because Kitamura Kazuki was in it, his sexy beautiful perfect self. And Takashi Miike directing it was the added incentive. But I ended up discovering a film that was rich with emotive content, scenery and symbolism. And Kitamura.
Basically the film is about Chinese gaijin (Japanese word for "foreigner"), and their strife to survive in the land of the rising sun. You have an average guy called Ryuichi, his soft-hearted, soft- spoken younger brother called Shunrei, and their less than wily childhood friend Chang. They end up befriending a prostitute from Shanghai called Anita, even after she quite easily mugs them their first day in the big city. If it weren't for Shunrei feeling bad for her looking badly beaten up, she might not have been taken along for their dangerous ride, down a perilous path rife with triad and yakuza gangsters and pimps.
Ryuichi actually beats the mess out of his brother for slowing them down with his sentimental ways. At first and throughout the whole movie, his temper might have seemed contemptible, but when they all meet their sticky end honestly because Shunrei decided to make a fateful pit-stop on their way fleeing out the country as scheduled, everyone should understand why Ryuichi was so hard on the guy.
There is also what I would call symbolism, specifically with nursery rhymes and childhood fables. Especially for tribal people, religions and ethnic groups, fables and songs are important. They (are meant to) teach values, morals, community... The movie even begins with Japanese kids singing a Japanese nursery rhyme, in red lighting. And Ryuichi and Shunrei as kids were racially bullied in the middle of their singing, then the kids continued along their path singing in Japanese, leaving the two brothers by themselves, looking on longingly. Miike being Korean originally probably understands this. And yes I repeat Ryuichi and Shunrei are Chinese; their Japanese names either is from being "hafu" or half Japanese, or the pressure on the non-Japanese of Far East Asian descent to try to convince Japanese people that they are Japanese, through a name change.
Furthermore, throughout the movie there is a gangster from Shanghai on their tail. He's not exactly nice but he did forewarn the brothers and Chang that they weren't too cut out for hard survival on Shinjuku's streets, particularly as Chinese foreigners, and under-educated, broke and rural on top of that. And this gangster on the outside is someone who can make you follow a command with not even the point of a finger lest what he would do, but in private, he still locks and shields himself in a dark cellar of a bedroom, like a scared little boy, with many candles for lights as a meditative atmosphere, and no electricity to entertain him like a TV or a radio. His sole entertainment is fables originating in Shanghai, preferably told by attractive Chinese women exclusively from Shanghai, even if they're a prostitute like Anita. Or he literally will go into a manic depression.
These scenes are also told in red lighting, like the opening scene with the schoolchildren singing. Red in film as I understand is a symbol for bad luck or impending doom. So I feel there is a negative connotation with nursery rhymes, because it is a reminder of their adversity as non-Japanese children, and homesickness for their motherland. The film even ends with them singing while covered in blood, which is red. This whole film is one depiction of how hard it can be to live in Japan from overseas.
There's other things in the film to hammer down the message of racial prejudice, like a black gaijin, whose character doesn't last long before ill fate meets him, even though he speaks more than good Japanese, and can even use chopsticks, despite the Chinese gangster telling the brothers that they can survive in Japan if they perfected their Japanese accents. Apparently even doing that doesn't help a black foreigner, at least in his field of work: They experience a brief stint in substance dealing (I wouldn't call it drug dealing because the substance they were selling looked to be a cocktail of chemicals and gasoline to huff). There's some comedy though I'd call it dark comedy, such as how silly Chang looks and talks while bleeding, or how angry yakuza get about simple backtalk, or how naughty Anita is and talks before, during and after a beatdown. There's not too much sex and just enough asskicking and blood (and Kitamura) to keep you, or at least me, going.
Oh yea, nothing good happens in this movie. Nothing. But the movie is great. It's certainly not like modern Asian film, especially the ones set in big East Asian cities. This movie is quite contently 90s Asia. There's nothing glamorous at all, anywhere. Not in hair, wardrobe or backdrop, nor soundtrack. Basically this isn't for date night or kids who like Jpop and Kpop. This is for people who like and who can handle a mature punch to the nose of reality, particularly in Japan's post bubble economy, or when many of their richest and poorest citizens lost everything; the Japanese Great Depression of the 80s and 90s. I'll be thinking of this movie for a while. And Kitamura (wistful sigh).