Directed by Rokuro Mochizuki, 1998, 97 mins., starring Shunsuke Matsuoka, Shohei Hino,
Shingo Tsurumi and
Directed in 1998 by Rokuro Mochizuki, Mobsters' Confessions (aka Gokudo zangeroku), a movie based on a popular manga written by Asada Jiro, is very much in keeping with Mochizuki's main motif of providing a deep insight into the minds and hearts of people on the very edges of society - criminals, outcasts and outsiders. In many ways, it's just another episode and more of the same for those already au fait with his work and a very accomplished and fitting chapter in the Mochizuki series currently being released by Artsmagic.
That said, Mochizuki does takes a very slightly different tack with this movie to the rest of his back catalogue to date: this time around, he does not deliberately set out to make his central character, a revolting scumbag of a con artist, even vaguely pleasant or sympathetic. Surprisingly for a Mochizuki gangster drama, the characters are not that well rounded, which is usually one of his strongest skills. In that respect, the characters, whilst still rather underdeveloped, are kind of more realistic - their behaviour and thoughts remain very much true to their natures, which is a skill in itself.
This movie seems to have a rather confused self-identity: like his earlier work A Yakuza In Love, it changes emotional tenet from sympathy to brutality with very startling effect and very little notice. However, in that particular movie, there was enough strong characterisation to give the viewer understanding of exactly why a vicious gangster might suddenly come over all gooey-eyed for a certain girl, and then in the next minute beat the crap out of her: in Mobsters' Confessions, the characters are not fully fleshed-out enough to make such an action - which does happen in both movies - either valid or comprehensible. It just happens and you either accept that the character in question does such a thing for whatever reason, or you don't. A substantial suspension of disbelief is occasionally required throughout the movie.
As for the plot of the movie, it is so convoluted that you would be forgiven for thinking the chronically muddled Shinji Aoyama had something to do with it. Trust me, it's really that confusing. Again, explanation and understanding is sorely lacking - Mochizuki merely expects everyone to keep up, which is uncharacteristically lazy for his usually tight and well-controlled plotting. He clearly means to blind his audience with science and confuse them with con trick piled on con trick, much as the central character's cons are blinding their victims, but it becomes a bit of a painful mental exercise trying to divide consciousness in following the threads of each scam and threatens to suck the entertainment out of the whole piece. The pace does pick up by the last section of the movie, but by that point it's only the most patient viewer who will still have a shred of interest left.
Visually, it's unengaging, being conducted (as was Shinji Aoyama's startlingly similar piece Wild Life) mostly indoors, and mainly in featureless business buildings and offices at that, which means that it's not as stylish as quite a few of Mochizuki's other movies. Towards the close of the movie, the situation does improve, and it strikes me that Mochizuki has a real affinity for shooting Tokyo cityscapes, which he always manages to make look as glamorous and glossy as a holiday brochure.
The acting quality in general is fairly pedestrian - Shunsuke Matsuoka is curiously emotionless as Jiro the scamming conman, and the rest of the cast merely yawn and say so what in support. Kanaya Amiko, playing the immensely downtrodden and abused Kumiko, puts in a fighting performance, but together she and Matsuoka provide an fairly charmless relationship - which is actually the point, as it happens. Shingo Tsurumi as Jay, the obviously comic yakuza sidekick, did provide a bit of much-needed light relief and charm, and thank God for that, as I was personally suffering from a surfeit of scumbags ;-)
Mobsters' Confessions is set in Tokyo, in the Japanese boom economy period during the 1980s. Asakawa Jiro (Shunsuke Matsuoka), a very poor excuse for a conman, gets beaten up for getting caught out in his latest scam. As he staggers away he meets a strange woman who starts a fire right in front of him in a factory, and the attraction between them is mysterious and immediate.
While conducting a new con at a small company run by a man named Moriyasu (Kuronuma Hiromi) , he runs into the strange girl who he had met that night he was beaten up - her name is Kumiko (Kanaya Amiko) and it turns out rather unfortunately that she is the daughter of the company boss he's just defrauded out of 200,000 yen. However, because he knows that she set fire to the factory, she backs up his story; as both of them know something potentially extremely damaging about each other, not to mention their mutual attraction, they end up forming more than a business partnership, and sleeping together.
It transpires directly afterwards that actually she's not merely the company director Moriyasu's stepdaughter, she's also sleeping with him. The fire she set in the factory was a revenge move against her stepfather for sexually abusing her for years. Jiro and Kumiko then begin a very rocky and volatile relationship based on mistrust, affairs and brutality.
The company's chief creditor Kamewada (Shohei Hino) just happens somewhat unfortunately to be a yakuza boss, and not only does he see through Jiro's con scheme immediately, he also decides he wants a piece of the action. So he sends along an armed gangster, Jay (Shingo Tsurumi), to be Jiro's bodyguard and to make sure that Jiro's scam doesn't go awry.
However, things go from bad to worse: Kumiko tells Jiro that Moriyasu has been whoring her out to the creditors to persuade them to drop their debts. His jealousy leads him to confess their relationship to Jay, who should really go and tell Kamewada - and by extension, Moriyasu - that Jiro and Kumiko have been having an affair. However, Jay saves Jiro's life by promising not to tell Kamewada and Moriyasu – a favour which he returns, albeit through necessity rather than any other reason - later, by saving Jay's life.
There is something far more dangerous ahead for Jiro, though: Kamewada orders him to start his own yakuza gang, and demands they split the profits fifty-fifty. Poor old Jay is to be killed for his double-crossing nature - until, in a bizarre volte-face, Jiro bargains with Kamewada to save Jay's life by taking a lesser cut of the profits, and Kamewada agrees to the deal. Jay's life is saved not through any sense of morality or payback, but simply because Jiro needs a business partner - and one who owes him, big time.
Jiro sets out to play the ultimate con trick, involving all kinds of obscure land laws and a hotel destined never to be built, with a rival gang boss's money. If the scam works, Jiro would be able not only to pay Kamewada off, he could also provide a good payoff for his little crime syndicate.
The three partners are held tightly together by an uneasy alliance of confessed - and kept - secrets: Jiro, who confesses all the sordid details of his lies to everyone around him throughout the narrative; Kumiko, who is continually pressed by Jiro to confess to who she's had to sleep with to gain favours for him; and Jay, who knows everything and yet confesses nothing, but who also owes Jiro his life. Their trust in one another is strengthened by the secrets that they share, based on the fact that they all hold something damaging against each other. But who can Jiro trust, if all his confidants are liars, just like himself?
Of the three Mochizuki movies I've personally sampled - Another Lonely Hitman, A Yakuza in Love and Mobsters' Confessions - I'd have to say that I found this piece by far the weakest of the three. It has much in common with A Yakuza In Love, but with the sparkling plot, sympathetic characters and the sense of fun stripped away to leave a rather bland noir melodrama behind. And frankly, Another Lonely Hitman is in an entirely different league to all of the other movies. If you're a fan of either yakuza eiga or Mochizuki's work you may well enjoy this, but for the casual movie-viewer it may well seem a bit too much like hard work.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this
Entertainment Value: 5/10
Sex: 9/10 - if it weren't for all the mind-bendingly complex scams I'd think I was watching a pinku movie ;-)
Con Tricks: don't try this at home or you may end up forming part of a motorway bridge somewhere ;-)
Taro Suwa or Ren Osugi?: Taro Suwa pops up at the end
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: a couple of squeezy bottles aimed directly at the face - splat!
Films in a Similar Style: Another Lonely Hitman, A Yakuza In Love, Onibi, Wild Life
*** For fans of yakuza drama only ***
This film is being released by Artsmagic.
Mobsters' Confessions Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2005
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.artsmagicdvd.com/ and http://www.artsmagic.co.uk - Artsmagic very kindly provided this movie to us for review, and are due to release the DVD in January 2006
http://pears.lib.ohio-state.edu/Markus/Review/Films98/Mobsters.html - excellent and very insightful review by
Aaron Gerow at Kinema Club
http://www.midnighteye.com/features/rokuro_mochizuki.shtml - interview with director Rokuro Mochizuki at Midnight Eye
http://imdb.com/title/tt0143279/ - page for the movie at IMDB