By Pete Vonder Haar | March 11, 2005

Say what you want about Japanese director Takashi Miike, he never fails to leave an impression. Whether you’re looking for a scene shot from the bottom of a toilet bowl or a couple of roosters duking it out in what was possibly one of the first examples of a “Matrix” bullet time rip-off, “City of Lost Souls” delivers.
All gussied up for its DVD debut, “City” is a frenetic jaunt through Japan’s underworld done in pure Miike style – which is to say it’s full of feverish visuals, ultraviolence, and a morbid sense of humor that is almost sentimental in places. The plot is straightforward enough: Brazilian/Japanese badass Mario (Teah) – whom we first see killing a bar full of “Miami Vice” extras, then stripping naked – has just hijacked a sightseeing helicopter in order to free his Chinese girlfriend Kei (Michele Reis) from a bus taking her to be deported. A few minutes (and a hundred foot leap from the chopper later), the duo is looking to sneak out of Japan.
At least, I think it’s Japan. The helicopter escape scene looked like it was filmed in Joshua Tree, and Mario and Kei bop around a Brazilian shantytown (sort of a transplanted favela, I guess) and through an underground labyrinth, all of which are supposedly in the same city.
Things go awry, as you might expect, and Mario is forced to approach his Brazilian hooker ex-girlfriend (Patricia Manterola) for help. She puts him on to a Russian client who agrees to help them out, for 9 million yen apiece.
Those readers who aren’t angrily demanding that I get to the point by now have probably noticed the veritable melting pot that Miike has thrown together for “City of Lost Souls.” You get Brazilians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians…it’s a post-millennial hoedown, to be sure. As an added bonus, everyone speaks in their native language, which must’ve made subtitling this baby a real chore.
Anyway, where to get 9 million yen? The young lovers (now married, in an odd street wedding that seems more Bourbon Street than Ginza) decide to stage a heist at a cockfight (which must be a more lucrative sport overseas, judging by the specimens we usually see getting arrested at similar sporting events on “COPS”). Signals inevitably get crossed, and they end up interrupting a drug deal between Ko, a creepy Chinese drug lord (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), and Fushimi (Koji Kikkawa), a yakuza enforcer. Mario and Kei escape with a suitcase full of coke and a whole new set of problems, especially considering Ko is one evil bastard. Our first glimpse of him is when he has a henchman light a guy on fire. Then hit him with a car. That’s a bitch.
Oh, and did I mention Ko is Kei’s ex-boyfriend? Didn’t see that coming, I bet.
“City of Lost Souls” isn’t exactly Miike’s best work. “Dead or Alive” delivers a more visceral assault, while the horror film “Audition” is an engaging (and often sickening) study in creepiness. But “City” is not a bad place for those new to Miike’s filmography to begin. At the very least, his movies are full of outlandish action sequences and inspired direction, though they still contain a certain level of introspection. At any rate, they make films by Western contemporaries like Tarantino and Guy Ritchie look like they’re moving in slow motion by comparison.

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