Young Thugs - Innocent Blood (1997)
By: CJ on October 8, 2004  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Artsmagic (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). Japanese DD 2.0, Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 107 Minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Koji Chihara, Sarina Suzuki, Yasushi Chihara and Kyosuke Yabe
Screenplay: Masa Nakamura (based on a novel by Toshikazu Nakaba)
Music: Tomio Terada
Country: Japan
AKA: Kishiwada shônen gurentai: Chikemuri junjô-hen (original Japanese title)
Artsmagic continue to dig up films by Takashi Miike and give them stellar releases on DVD. Their latest offerings are a pair of films under the titles Young Thugs – Innocent Blood and Young Thugs – Nostalgia. The DVD under review here is the first of this pair called Young Thugs – Innocent Blood.

Innocent Blood continues the themes of alienation and fragmented relationships that Miike tackles in his previous work, only this time around he makes it more personal, by setting the film in Osaka, a Japanese fishing village, where he grew up. He claims that the film is semi-autobiographical and the characters are either representations of himself or of people he knew whilst growing up. The film follows the fortunes of four young friends who have just left school and are finding their way in the world. More often than not, their journey involves violence and having to have to fight to survive and find their niche in this harsh, uncompromising adult world. There's not much more to the film than this, except watching the group scrape through daring escapades and using violence as a means to an end. The central part of the story slows down somewhat and the focus shifts to a love story element, and shows the relationship between two of the protagonists disintegrating and disillusionment setting in. But it's this attention to character that makes the film so special, Miike obviously cares a great deal about the people in the film, and wants us, the viewer, to get to know them and to understand their motivations.

The film is basically a character study of the four young friends, but the story is often punctuated with astonishing scenes of brutal violence. This violence is performed in a very matter-of-fact manner, and is just a part of life, and is how they get things done. All of the characters are completely unfazed by the violence all around them and take it in their stride in a business-as-usual fashion. The violence on display here is not of the cartoonish type seen in Miike's later Ichi the Killer, but is much more earthy and realistic – with the baseball bat being the favoured weapon of choice in most cases, which gives you an idea of what to expect.

However, the violence is really an aside; that's not what the film is about (though many, I'm sure, will seek it out for this very reason). The film is about the recklessness of youth, and the empowerment of freedom to do exactly as you choose without thought of consequence. It's about the relationship between the four friends and how it progresses and changes – and how they never lose that bond between them. It's also about the confusion of youth too, and the desperation and loneliness that goes with it, as you seek to find your place in the world. It's a surprisingly moving piece of work and by the end of the film you've to come to care about the characters – they're not just fodder for violent set pieces, these are real people with real feelings and motives. It's a quite remarkable film, really.
The video transfer here is excellent – a vibrant and sharp image, with consistent colours and solid blacks. No compression problems are evident and the quality of the picture is superb. It's hard to imagine this looking any better than it does here. A fantastic job has been done by Artsmagic on this film, and they are to be commended for lavishing so much care on this relatively obscure Takashi Miike film – and, to my knowledge, this is the first release it has had outside of Japan.
Two audio options are provided, both being Japanese. The first is a simple DD 2.0 stereo option, which gets the job done - but the better option is the 5.1 Surround, which really opens up the sound into the whole surround sound audio platform. Both audio tracks are excellent, but the latter is the superior of the two. The English subtitles are also clear and distinct and very easy to read.
Extra Features
A few extras are provided, including a feature on the history and culture of Osaka, a theatrical trailer, bios and filmographies, a still gallery showing the original Japanese packaging and lastly an on-camera interview with Takashi Miike. The interview is well worth a look, as Miike talks frankly about the film and his inspirations, and shows that he has a deep affection for his Young Thugs films. He also talks about his progression as a filmmaker and how he regards his body of work, which is interesting to learn about. Some nice extras from Artsmagic, which adds to the overall package.
The Verdict
Once again, Takashi Miike proves that he is an extremely talented director, and that as well as being provocative, he can also make deeply emotive films too. He shows with Young Thugs – Innocent Blood that he is as comfortable with developing characters as he is with flashy ultra-violence. This film will no doubt further cement his reputation as a director of superlative films, and shows that his talent isn't restricted to the likes of Ichi and Audition, but that his body of work covers a wide range of material and subject matter. In fact, viewing Ichi in the light of his previous work, shows that it is in fact a further progression of the themes of alienation and isolation, and being forced into a criminal sub-culture to gain acceptance. These themes appear to run throughout Miike's work, and even on his worst day, he is better than most in his field. Although I wouldn't rank it as his best work, Young Thugs is still definitely one to watch out for, and I would encourage you to seek it out.
Movie Score
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