Ley Lines (1999)
By: CJ on August 10, 2004  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Artsmagic (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1:85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0 Stereo. English Subtitles. 105 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Kazuki Kitamura, Dan Li, Tomorowo Taguchi, Naoto Takenaka and Sho Aikawa
Screenplay: Ichiro Ryu
Music: Kôji Endô
Country: Japan
AKA:Nihon kuroshakai
Ley Lines is Takashi Miike's third and final entry in his Black Society Trilogy, and is no less compelling than the first two films in the series. This entry is less harsh and brutal than the first two films and focuses more on the human drama of the events that unfold. That's not to say there aren't passages of violence and human degradation, because there are, but they occur with less frequency than in the other films.

The central protagonists of Ley Lines are three young men of mixed race who leave their rural community to reside in Tokyo. However, things don't go quite as planned and before long they find themselves caught up in the criminal world of the big city. Frustrated at the racism they encounter and the inability to get ahead in legitimate fashion, they decide to leave Japan entirely and seek to find a passage out of Tokyo. To do this, though, means having to act as stowaways – and this comes with a price. In order to fund this enterprise, they decide to commit the daring robbery of an underworld crime lord, which is to their error, as they soon find out.

It's an intriguing film and continues the theme of the first two films by focusing on the fortunes of protagonists who are not of pure Japanese blood. These ethnically impure people are often forced into criminal activity due to a lack of legitimate opportunities denied them because of racism, and Miike exposes this bigotry through his uncompromising and controversial films in the Black Society Trilogy. Miike is unsympathetic to the bigotry and leads the viewer to identify and feel impassioned for those forced into this dark underbelly of Japanese society. It's to his credit that he is able to do this effectively, without the films becoming overly sentimental or self-indulgent. Although we are led to identify and maybe even sympathise with the plight of these people, he also never excuses their criminal actions, and often allows those we are supposed to identify with to commit atrocities that we are appalled by. This creates a dichotomy within the viewer as to whether the central characters deserve our pity or our loathing. It's an interesting place to be, and Miike is masterful at confronting the viewer with both beautiful and harrowing images, always striving to evoke feeling and strong emotion.

Ley Lines is a more emotive drama than the first two entries, but also focuses a lot more on human exploitation and degradation. One of the central characters is a prostitute who attaches herself to the young men who are seeking to escape Japan. Throughout the course of the film she is subjected to appallingly humiliating acts and is beaten frequently by her pimp. It was her character who seemed to demand the most sympathy, and I think this was intentional on Miike's part. By the end of the film it's her we're rooting for most of all and wanting to see freed from her life of prostitution and degrading humiliation.

So…do they succeed in getting out of Japan? Well, you'll have to find that out for yourself. But I will say this, the ending, though very downbeat, is also thoroughly apt and has a kind of haunting beauty about it – a most appropriate conclusion to Miike's excellent trilogy.

I loved the Black Society Trilogy and cannot speak highly enough of it. This is a tremendous achievement by Takashi Miike – who is fast becoming, in my estimation, one of the best directors working today.
The transfer on this disc from Artsmagic is on a par with the other films in the trilogy. That is to say that it's a good solid transfer, presented anamorphically at 1.85:1, with vibrant colours and solid blacks throughout. A really nice transfer and looks very good with no visible compression problems nor any print damage. Image detail is good and there is nothing of note to complain about.
The audio provided is a DD 2.0 Japanese track with clear and easy to read subtitles. Perfectly adequate and reproduces the dialogue, music and FX with great clarity. No audible background hiss – it sounds very good. The atmospheric city noises and music come over particularly well. No complaints whatsoever with the audio. There is also an informative and entertaining audio commentary from Takashi Miike film expert Tom Mes, which is well worth a listen.
Extra Features
Artsmagic furnish the disc with a handful of extras, including two on-camera interviews with Takashi Miike and one on-camera interview with film editor Yasushi Shimamura. Also included are bio's and filmographies of principal cast and crew members. And lastly there is a theatrical trailer. All in all it's a nice package and adds value to the product.
The Verdict
Ley Lines is a powerfully emotive viewing experience; beautifully shot and brilliantly acted. A fitting final entry in the Black Society Trilogy and shows how much Miike has matured as a director in the four years since making the first instalment. Though each film stands in its own right as a complete work, the themes of racism, isolation and alienation on the fringes of Japan's criminal underworld run throughout the three films. So although it's not necessary to see the first two films to understand the plot of Ley Lines, it does help in establishing the themes and concepts that the series addresses. Takashi Miike is a masterful director, and everything I've seen of his so far has been superb – and Ley Lines is no exception. I wouldn't simply recommend this single film, but I'd recommend the entire Trilogy, as it is a body of work that really needs to be seen in chronological order to get the full effect. The Black Society Trilogy is an impressive body of work of which Miike can be rightly proud of.
Movie Score
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