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It seems that when people in the know discuss Takashi Miike, it's not long before the name Quentin Tarantino comes up. That comparison is certainly not inapt, as Miike shares Tarantino's gift for showing viewers a world in which conventional notions of law and morality are virtually nonexistent. That said, "City of Lost Souls" is the work of a visual stylist who clearly stands on his own abilities. As one would expect from the guy who made the action classic "Dead or Alive," "City of Lost Souls" explores a dark underside of Japanese life filled with unsavory characters and violent happenings. Also like "Dead or Alive," the movie explores (though admittedly not in much depth) the interactions of different peoples in Japanese soceity, in this case the Japanese, the Chinese, and Brazilians. Perhaps most notable, though, is the presence of a high level of bizarre and even surreal elements that set Miike well apart from the action-movie pack. Of course, it's all filmed in Miike's skewed, frenetic style, which makes the movie distinctive enough on its own.
The plot, to the extent that one exists, centers around Mario and Kei, one of the more unlikely couples you'll see in a movie. Mario is a deadly Brazilian criminal who opens the movie by shooting up a bar in his home country; Kei is an absurdly gorgeous apprentice hairdresser who starts the movie on a bus waiting to be deported to her native China. That all changes, though, when Mario stages a dramatic rescue involving an assault rifle and a commandeered helicopter. While the relationsip of Kei and Mario clearly takes center stage here, it's equally clear early on that this is no ordinary love story.
It's after that rescue scene that things start to get a little complicated. Trying to get out of the country, Mario and Kei wind up getting caught between the Yakuza and the Chinese Triad when they steal some cocaine during a deal between the two sides. Pretty soon both groups are on their trail, meaning Mario, Kei, and the tight-knit Brazilian community around them are all in danger of catching a bullet at any moment. Making a bad situation worse, the Yakuza leader, Fushimi, is an unhinged sociopath staging a power grab, and the top Triad, Ko, is Kei's ex-boyfriend and still hasn't quite let go of her in his mind. So, to sum up, the Yakuza and the Triad are both after Kei and Mario, Ko is after Kei, the Brazilian community is soon after Mario, and Fushimi is seemingly after anyone who gets within shooting distance.
Naturally, Miike uses this plot and the accompanying explosive situation as a springboard for the expected series of twisted happenings and profuse bloodshed. Whatever this movie may lack in terms of plot or character development is more than made up for in sheer visual appeal. Obviously a gifted director of action, Miike also impresses with his knack for constructing the kind of set pieces that you just won't see in mainstream American action movies. Mixed in with the conventional shootings, beatings, and explosions are such decidedly unconventional elements as a cockfighting scene inspired by "The Matrix" of all movies, a scene in which Kei sets a guy on fire with some Vodka, and a ping-pong match with deadly consequences for one of the participants. Better yet, much like "Dead Or Alive," the movie hits its climax with a frenetic, shoot-'em-up finale that's sort of like a miniature version of one of John Woo's legendary denouements.
In the end, while it is a bit shallow, "City of Lost Souls" is a more than sufficiently entertaining film for those into the genre. Miike's highly caffeinated, stylish direction is perfect for those with short attention spans, and the whole movie makes a brilliant piece of eye candy. It may not be great, but it looks great, and that's plenty close enough. Any movie with this many cool shots and bullets flying around is worth checking out.