So, picture this. Sometime in Japan’s future, while some great war continues raging somewhere, a law has been passed that allows the victims of violent crime to legally retaliate against those who have wronged them. The whole process is strictly managed and controlled. The aggrieved can only use approved weapons, for instance, and the one being targeted is given notice of the action. Those who don’t have the nerve to do it themselves can hire a government-licensed killer to finish the job. The victim can escape only by killing his killers, who can also hire bodyguards to protect them — unless, say, they’re too proud to accept the help.
Freesia is not the first example of a genre Japan seems to specialize in, which for lack of any better label I’ll call “sociological science fiction”. The great-god-emperor of all such stories is ostensibly Battle Royale, where a fight to the death was couched in a sociology that could only be called “Darwinistic” at the cost of making Darwin do barrel rolls in his grave. This film, adapted from a manga of the same name, fits comfortably into the same category without trying to be a one-upsmanship job. It’s more low-key and simmering than the explosion of the other film.
Note: I was unable to finish watching this film due to the DVD being defective. At some point I plan to find a working copy and update this review. Read for flavor.
Hiroshi (Tetsuji Tamayama, Casshern) is one of the aforementioned licensed killers/bodyguards, a dead-faced young man whose unerring accuracy with a gun seems to have come at the cost of his self-preservation instinct. He lets one of his victims panic and empty his guns in his general direction, possibly because he’s already certain the guy can’t hit the broad side of a skyscraper. He sits in a restaurant and placidly slurps down his spaghetti while in the street anti-war protesters and cops with gas guns knock out each other’s brains. He’s got good reason for acting like he’s got parts on order: he was once involved with something called “Project Fenrir”, a secret-weapons project in which the lives of war orphans were used as cannon fodder, and for which he feels a sizable passel of guilt for his participation.
Hiroshi’s agency is a business, like any other — they cater to anyone who can pay. His contact there is Miss Higuchi (Tsugumi, also in Long Dream) and seems as detached as he appears, but it’s not hard to see how that’s an asset in this line of work. In one striking scene she serves notice to a gangster named Sumikawa — he’s the target — sits with him in a restaurant, and coolly explains the rules to him. Because he’s a “security risk”, he and the assailants will be placed in a closed location and allowed to duel it out. Her hair and methodical calm remain unruffled even after one of his hothead cronies punches her in the face. Her connection to Hiroshi later turns out to be, shall we say, not merely professional: she is exploiting the system, and Hiroshi’s skills, to take revenge for her own hurts from ages past.
Freesia was directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, who rocketed to notoriety with his student project Kichiku, a fictionalized treatment of the 1971 implosion of the Leftist student-rebel cell the United Red Army. The movie’s remarkable period look, accomplished on a microscopic budget, took a backseat to the stupefying amount of gore, bloodletting and violence of every conceivable stripe that spewed across the screen. It felt less like exploitation and more like a personal exorcism of some kind, but that didn’t make it any less easy to sit through. After that he directed two other movies that got some reputation outside of Japan: Hole in the Sky and Antenna, which showed he could do good things with bigger budgets (and do more than just gross us out). He’s put this film together with the kind of discipline and detachment that I didn’t expect to be used for this material.