NYAFF 2018: The Blood of Wolves
Murder, corruption, sex, soft pack cigarettes, hard drugs - such is the life of a gang cop in 1980’s Japan, and the rookie Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka) is having a hard time acclimating. His first case fresh off graduating from the prestigious Hiroshima U is a real trial by fire, as he’s been partnered with Ogani (Kōji Yakusho), the toughest and possibly most corrupt gang cop on the force, to put a stop to an impending war between a few rival factions, the Odani-gumi, the Kakomura-gumi, and the Irako-kai. The respected but feared Ogani is willing to do just about anything to help his investigations, often resorting to illegal theft and torture methods. It gets things done, but the still green Hioka can’t stomach it, and starts speaking with internal affairs to have him taken off the streets for good.
The Blood of Wolves is a classic blend of exploitation cinema and police procedural. The procedural elements are fairly engaging, starting off with a simple missing persons mystery and devolving into full on warfare, but following the yakuza politics can be a bit of a bore. The most interesting elements are far and away the bursts of exploitation, which are sparingly used to great effect. A giant spritz of blood here, some gratuitous nudity there, a lot of it is upsetting and it keeps things moving at a uniquely wonderful pace (I got queasy a whopping one minute and seven seconds in during a scene I’d rather forget about. I honestly worry about what these actors had to ingest).
Veteran actor Yakusho once again gives a great performance as the admittedly cliche grizzled cop. His tough exterior mostly manifests in wisecracks, making him a vital source of levity whenever he’s on screen. Matsuzaka handles most of the film’s dramatic heavy lifting, and the character ends up being a bit of an energy sinkhole outside of the few scenes late in the film where he gets to let loose and display serious talent. The buzzkill is necessary, though, as the myriad yakuza members seem to be in a contest to see who can out-crazy the last. The gonzo performances of these men who think their balls are too big to fit in the same frame as one another were thankfully not reigned in at all.
I am unfamiliar with director Kazuya Shiraishi’s previous work, but with the talent and uncompromising vision displayed here, I can not wait to seek some more of it out. The film is full of go-for-broke performances, gross-out exploitation scenes, funny writing, and interesting cinematography. I haven’t been this entertained by such an unabashedly sleazy movie in a long time.