Tokyo Rampage is an example of a movie that’s not very good but remains interesting despite itself. It’s set in modern-day Tokyo and deals with one of the perennial subjects of filmmakers there: disaffected youth and sociopathic Tokyo criminals. The director in question, Toshiaki Toyoda, has made at least one other truly outstanding movie about that first subject — Blue Spring — but this time around he’s dealing with a story that’s a good deal more arid and far harder to make interesting to an outside audience. He does give it his college best, though, and what he ends up with is enough to hold our attention for its running time but not much more than that.
Rampage opens with Arano (Kōji Chihara), a sullen young man wandering around Tokyo, sunken down in his overcoat and lugging around an airline bag full of weapons. He has some strange, undefined hatred of yakuza, so severe and deeply ingrained that he stabs one to death for the grand crime of scalping theater tickets. The dead gangster’s associate is Kamiju (Onimaru), a long-haired punk only slightly older than Arano himself but with a small crew of hangers-on. Kamiju’s not exactly living large, though: most of his work consists of enforcing collections for his pimp boss, and he spends a good deal of time and effort ducking calls from his mother. Arano is wilder than him or any of his buddies, and they find that downright intimidating where they haven’t found much of anything intimidating before.
Psycho loner Arano drifts into the circles of low-level yakuza thug Kamiju, who realizes
(rather late) that this one man with a knife is more frightening than any of his enemies.
Kamiju, on the other hand, has to deal with the frustration of only being able to rise so high and no higher — he’s a small fry, no matter how much he stomps and threatens, and everyone around him, including his own boys, knows it. Arano becomes a member of his crew, sort of, and tags along with them on a drug deal. When the sellers (a pair of snotty American punks) won’t bring their prices down, he shoots them both. Later, he and one of the girls in Kamiju’s boss’s crew (Rin Ozawa) make off with the dead dealers’ boom box stuffed with LSD — but it’s mostly her idea; like everything else, he just goes along with it because he hardly seems like he has anything better to do.
The only thing that gives Arano any sense of duty is his hatred for gangsters — to them he says, “You’re not needed,” just before he shoots them, or pummels them, or stabs them. There is one such scene, of Arano stabbing of a man in a parking garage, that reminded me of the equally grotesque face-slapping scene in Kitano’s Violent Cop. It’s so improbably prolonged (and difficult to watch) that I wondered if it was not meant to be objective, but subjective: this is what Arano wants to see. “What’s my epitaph going to be?” he asks Kamiju at one point, while they’re in a cemetery — not long after Kamiju has ostensibly buried his father there — and it’s not hard to see how Arano’s obsession with violence and death has shut out everything else in the world, including simple human contact. Even the pretty young girl who wants to hock the drugs for fast cash and do something fun with him gets stiffed.
The movie's cruelty and grimness of tone is so unremitting and unleavened by anything other than
its basic insights that it adds up to one very long, dry slog from a director who has done better.
As potentially interesting as all these elements are, they don’t add up to a more interesting movie, and that’s the real shame of it. Toyoda is a better director than this — he made Blue Spring, and also the outstanding 9 Souls, which was among my choices for the best film of its year. It’s not hard to see how this is a product of the same mind that gave us those other two films. It’s a good looking movie — in fact, there are some downright amazing visual moments, like a shot out of a train window near the beginning that’s a real stunner, and a beautiful scene where Kamiju finds himself in the middle of a rain of knives. But the movie as a whole is a cold and leaden experience, and when it’s all over it doesn’t leave us with much of anything except a sense of relief that it’s finally finished. Maybe that was the idea.