Whenever Shin (Joe Odagiri in another wide-ranging performance) shuts his eyes, his mind places him on a runway. With arms widespread and running at top speed, the ever-so-young boy tries his damndest but can never lift off. When his eyes are open, it’s a twenty-year-old lost man (college dropout, unemployed, despairing soul caught in the country-humbling downturn of 1991) who has opted to leave “sleepy and restless Japan” (as well as a puzzled girlfriend) and fling himself into the most hazardous city in the world: New York.
Director/co-writer Sion Sono (along with Kazuyoshi Kumakiri) takes Shin through a journey of self-discovery that is rife with arresting images (a top-storey loft features remnants of the world’s biggest pillow fight—cinematographer Hiroo Yanagida’s hand-held tour of the digs is a marvel—the “el discipulo” signage just as Shin finds his saviour another deft touch), sounds (triplet-laden solo guitar captures the sense of loneliness amongst millions beautifully; real-life, jazz-trio musicians sizzle in their extended solo), scenes (learning English using Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass affords many opportunities of exploring the “young men at anguish with themselves”; finding Chinese enemies, The Long Riders-style is a surprising gem) and situations (selling and licking drug-infested, soft ice cream is one of many child/adult symbols that temper the violence/thievery with tender innocence) that frequently combine to produce many wonderful moments of cinematic greatness.
Having been robbed (a pair of opportunistic black “dogs”) of his cash and possessions within a few hours of arriving in the Big Apple (after purchasing a conveniently-for-sale T-shirt whose slogan is the film’s title), Shin hooks up with two compatriots who immediately teach him the fine art of taking anything you need, using cocked guns in lieu of payment.
Lee (Jai West brings a wonderful joie de vivre—his bare-chest, red-tie “Singing in the Rain”-like dance in the streets is refreshing and fun) is leader of the pack. It’s his spacious loft where the amigos crash, his connection to Kool Kreme that provides wheels of all kinds, extra tasty “special” cones and the daily plans for grand theft and partying. That leaves Takeda (Motoki Fukami’s take as a deranged love-sick, itchy-finger gunman adds yet another fascinating dimension to the troubled trio) to drive his buds from one adventure to the next.
Employing narration by his alter ego a dozen years back adds both insider information and poignancy while Shin improves his language, heist and “social” skills. He soon manages to banish his illusive—shamefully cowardly—identical-twin from his psyche but what has been gained? As the film reaches its climax the notion of “a penny for your thoughts” takes on a delightfully magical shine; for a few moments, hope promises to provide enough lift for Shin to soar strongly into new-found confidence and courage.
Yet after an extra-large helping of revenge has been meted out (the sub-plot of a crooked cop is at one with the era), the production literally loses its colour, slipping sadly back into black-and-white drabness of a life that will never experience the joy, beauty and security of a Whitman tree. JWR