Susumu TerajimaShingo TsurumiTakashi IshiiYozaburo Ito
Black Angel Vol. 2
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Writer/director: Takashi Ishii
Keywords: Black Angel, yakuza
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Yuki Amami, Takeshi Yamato, Reiko Kataoka, Yozaburo Ito, Shingo Tsurumi, Susumu Terajima, Eugene Nomura, Noriko Hayami, Daisuke Iijima, Sachiko Hara, Shigeo Kobayashi
Format: 105 minutes
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 19 October 2011
Despite the title, it's not a sequel to Black Angel Vol. 1. It's merely another Takashi Ishii yakuza movie in which a sexy female killer called the Black Angel kills gangsters. As usual for him, this is a story of damaged protagonists, a spitefully cruel universe, mostly worthless men, some nudity and no attempt to make an emotional connection with the audience. (That's not a criticism, by the way. It's just Ishii being Ishii.)
I'm not going to get into the issue of which film is better. I think they're both successful at achieving their aims, but that Ishii isn't trying to be a crowd-pleaser and that he makes films that are challenging, not emotional comfort food. That's been true ever since his pornos.
Thus if I claim that this film is more exciting than Black Angel vol. 1 or that I cared more about its protagonists than about those in its predecessor, those factors almost feel irrelevant. They affect the entertainment value, but this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster. It's not driven by adrenaline, but instead by its protagonists' rejection of emotional connections and by their ambiguous relationship with violence. It's almost a violent art film.
The main characters are Yuki Amami, Takeshi Yamato and Reiko Kataoka.
Amami is the Black Angel, of whom this time there's theoretically only one (but see Kataoka). She doesn't kill for revenge, but simply for money. She's a professional assassin who lives on her own and seems to have cut herself off from the world around her. She's very good at her job, but so detached that her psyche comes across as fragile and she's someone you'd worry about anyway. In fact she reminds me of Harumi Inoue in Freeze Me, especially in that scene where her only relationship is with her freezer and she's eating frozen food items without putting them in the microwave first. Ishii made that film the year after this one, by the way. I'd be surprised if that wasn't his inspiration.
Anyway, the key trauma in both Amami and Inoue's pasts involves rape. The difference is that Inoue actually got raped and yet was coping with it until the rapists returned, while Amami was rescued and yet ironically is far more broken. What screwed her over psychologically was that the man who saved her ten years ago, Yamato, killed one of her attackers in the struggle and as a result had his life fall apart. He's now a yakuza. Admittedly underneath that he's still a nice guy, but nevertheless his daily routine is extortion and putting bullets in people.
The last of the three is Kataoka, who's a complete innocent and for this is about to be punished. She's no criminal. She's pregnant and she runs a flower shop. When we first meet her, she's been buying baby things with her husband. However for the crime of simply walking through an underground car park, she's about to have her life torn to shreds. What's interesting about her is that she's theoretically another Black Angel. She's suffered more than enough injury to justify turning her into the Righteous Vengeance character who massacres all and sundry... but Ishii subverts that. Oh, Kataoka attempts that. She wants to be a Black Angel. She finds a yakuza (Susumu Terajima), gets a gun from him and goes off to kill the man who killed her husband. However she's never done anything like that before and she's rubbish at it. She screws up at every single stage, suffers yet more ghastly punishment and isn't even trying to kill the right man. The only reason she doesn't shoot herself the instant she gets her hands on a gun is because her nerve fails her.
The most glaring thing about this film is how consistently being nice gets you punished. Fail to shoot the most important person in your life and your reward will be the events of this film. (Note: you wouldn't wish that on anyone.) Every so often a yakuza might do something selfless. Not good.
However Ishii's equally aware of how the bastards are simply punishing others instead. They do horrendous things and it doesn't even really mean anything. They're just being shitty because that's how they think. Admittedly they're going to get punished too, but at the hands of our protagonists, i.e. abused women.
There's also a subtext about family and relationships, I notice. It's especially obvious in the early scenes. Kataoka and her husband are shopping for their unborn baby, while there's also a mother and her annoying roller-skating son who aren't what they seem. Amami's only human contact calls himself "Mama", but he's played by Shingo Tsurumi and he's a drag queen who's never even shown his face to Amami and instead merely phones her up to tell her who to kill next.
All that said, would I recommend the film?
If you're interested in strong cinema, yup. However if you're merely looking to kill some time with tits, guns and gangsters... yes, it's perfectly watchable on that level too. The film might come across as slow and overly interested in cold, damaged people, but the final act is cool enough that you should go away content. There's some savage irony in there, while in addition Amami finally pulls her finger out and shows us how cool she is. If you're looking for violence, you've come to the right place.
However it's alienating, of course. It's Takashi Ishii. I can see that the tragedy is powerful, but everyone's just a little too distant for me to care about them. Amami in particular could hardly be chillier if she was a popsicle. Ironically though this is almost a backhanded compliment, since I'd normally have no interest in films where I don't care about the characters and it's a testament to Ishii that he kept me interested anyway. I think he's a good writer/director, although I also think you'd knock your senses out of kilter if you watched all his films back-to-back. Disney would be a good palate-cleanser, I think.
It's very good, though. If what I've been saying sounds interesting, by all means watch it.