The preview for Kamikaze Taxi (Kamikaze takushi) made it look like a violent yakuza film, & that was certainly an ingredient, but I must say this is one of the finest films I've ever seen, by no means just a gangster bloodfest; it is the modern equivalent of a medieval war poem.
Tatsuo (Kazuya Takahashi) has been working as a pimp for the yakuza, providing girls for a powerful politician who likes to beat them up. When one of Tatsuo's girls complains, his yakuza boss knocks her to the ground, steps on her neck & breaks it, a summary death that horrifies Tatsu who can do nothing about it.
Another of Tatsuo's girls has been badly beaten by the politician, who we periodically see on television screens expressing ultra right-wing racist & misogynist points of view on things, but most horrifically all his ideas are well within the political range we actually see from politicians.
Tatsuo thinks of his girls as his colleagues, not his possessions to be exploited & discarded or killed. He cannot revolt against the callous gangsters, & the politician is untouchable. Even so, he gathers together a collection of ne'er-do-well boyhood friends & together they manage to rob the politician of about two million corruptly obtained dollars. Their plan was far from foolproof & the yakuza are soon out in numbers killing Tatsuo's entire team & having promised to deliver Tatsuo's testicles & his nose to the politician.
On the run, he meets a taxi driver, a Japanese-Peruvian immigrant played by the brilliant Koji Yakusho from Shall We Dance & other great films. He is a sweet guy who takes a fatherly interest in the young Tatsuo & ends up assisting him in avenging his girls & his boyhood friends against the politician & the yakuza. In Peru the driver had fought against the Shining Path, so sweet & downtrodden though he seems to be, he's definitely capable of taking care of himself if the need eventually arises.
This rough outline of the first half of the film should give the same impression the trailer did, of a violent gangster epic. But here's the difference: People have personalities, dreams, & emotions. The worst gangster of the lot might be eager to lop off our young hero's balls & gun down all his buddies, but he's also a man of deep emotion who values friendship, loves jazz, & is personally a great saxophonist.
Early in the film this villain has a passing meeting with the taxi driver; it almost comes to serious blows, but the Japanese-Peruvian in broken Japanese politely asks forgiveness, while in his cab Andean music is playing. Afterword the "evil" gangster remarks to a companion, "I felt he & I could have been friends." "Then let's ask him for drinks." "No, I'd be embarrassed." They will not meet again until the final scene of the film, & despite the violence that erupts, that feeling of "we could have been friends" still dominates the sequence.
So too when Tatsuo's best friend from boyhood, badly wounded, has sat on a staircase to bleed to death, they have a final conversation that is very touching, loving, & tragic. Just about every time something brutal happens, something humane & sorrowful unfolds in counterpoint. The beauty of this balancing act reminded me of Pulp Fiction, & really this kind of "violent" film steeped in humanity fulfills my dream of the perfect action thriller.
I totally believe that people capable of great evil are simultaneously capable of sensitivity & heroism. If it weren't so, there would not be wars in this world, or wars would be waged exclusively by psychopaths merely mistaken for patriots. Kamikaze Taxi defintely draws parallels between what people do in war, & what they do in the world of gangsters; what we do as politicians, or as thugs; as dreamers & lovers, or as killers. Very few of us all all angel or all demon.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl