A teenaged vigilante in Tokyo

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The 1998 Japanese-language movie “Tokyo Eyes,” was directed by someone with the not-very Japanese-sounding name Jean-Pierre Limosin (1949-), who also directed “Cinema of Our Time” documentaries about Abbas Kiarostami and Takeshi Kitano, who has a role in “Tokyo Eyes” and whose “Novo” (2002) was shot in Spain and in Spanish [he also directed “Young Yakyuza” (2007) and “Visite à Hokusai” (2014]. The first two movies that pop out of the jumble of my movie memory bank for comparison to “Tokyo Eyes” are Louis Malle’s adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s comic novel Zazie dans le métro and Terrrence Malick’s “Badlands,” an incongruous pair. Quite a bit of “Tokyo Eyes” takes place in the Tokyo subway and the central characters have some of the anarchic playfulness of Zazie, but also the alienation and trigger-happiness of Martin Sheen’s portrayal of Kit Carruthers, ineffectively restrained by Sissy Spaceck’s Holly Sargis in “Badlands.”

For those with different material stored in the memory banks and, therefore, not helped by those analogies, “Tokyo Eyes” involves a young Japanese gunman nicknamed “Four Eyes” by the media, and who calls himself “K” (played by Takeda Shinji ). who goes around shooting people in Tokyo for aesthetic and offenses and lack of generosity (including a bus driver who is very nasty to a confused Iranian family). K travels by subway. Hinano (Yoshikawa Hinano [Moonlight Serenade], a 17-year-old student who lives with her police officer brother (Sugimoto Tetta ) who is working the “Four Eyes” rampage case (hampered by an adult inability to understand the motives and connections between the shootings). Hinano who also travels by subway a lot, looks at the police sketch of the shooter and infers that a young man (not wearing glasses) is the much-sought shootist. She tracks him down, but decides not to turn him in.

Instead, she befriends him. He is not sexually interested in her (she clearly makes herself sexually available to him), but having a friend transforms him from being a psychopathic loner. His pistol turns out (1) not to be an ordinary pistol and (2) manages to get into trouble after “Four Eyes” retires.  Of course, I am not going to reveal the twist and the twist of the twist.

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What I find most interesting in the movie is the quasi-documentary look at Tokyo (and here, the New York of “The French Connection” is a close analog, but the subway rides in “Tokyo Eyes” are less eventful than the one in “The French Connection”! or even than those in “Pickpocket” or “Pickup on South Street”…). The cinematographer, Jean-Marc Fabre, also has a name that does not sound Japanese (he also shot the underappreciated “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries”). “Tokyo Eyes” has an appropriate techno (not my style!) soundtrack supplied by Xavier Jamaux (all these Japanese names!).

Yoshikawa Hinano  makes the odd (by any culture’s standards) behavior of the screen character Hinano seem at least possible, and holds her own with the more flamboyant antics of Shinji Takeda’s K (not the least of which is his vigilante rampage). Takeda is a nerdish cartoon-fan’s notion of cool with unruly locks of hair (buried under a stocking cap or sweatshirt hood when he is out punishing those he considers wrong-doers) Although playing a vigilante punishing those he regards as wrongdoers in a very big city, he is not very much like Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.” He’s much less scary, for one thing.

The international marquee-name from the cast list, Takehashi “Beat” Kitano [Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence], plays a punch-drunk low-level yakusa enforcer. The basis for his being acquainted with K is mysterious, but as comic a figure as he seems to be, he is connected to the real world of crime and trails trouble in his wake. It seems to me that the yakusa’s intrusion throws the pace and mood of the movie off track.

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“Tokyo Eyes” is somewhat akin to “Bad Education” in incongruously mixing comic absurdity and crimes (and in that the crimes differ substantially from the immediately apparent ones). I know from the unease of some with what I consider the great masterpiece “Malèn”a (and with Giuseppe Tornatore’s earlier “The Star Maker”) that genre-blurring disturbs some viewers.

BTW, despite including many shootings, there is no blood. And, as I’ve already indicated, no sex. The goings on in the anomie of the urban jungle depart from “traditional family values” and very definitely show the formation of a family of choice. Soooooooooo… I enjoyed the movie and found it morally uplifting (though not by conventional imposition). Some others would not.

BTW, from the DVD talent info, I learned that Shinji Takeda is a Japanese tv star.

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

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