“The likability of Gou Ayano as Tatsuhiko still shines, turning the second part of Tatsuhiko’s narrative, despite being thematically different and not being refreshing at all, [into] an enjoyable narrative to experience.”
After the commercial success Sion Sono’s manga adaptation Shinjuku Swan was – racking in 1.33 billion yen, it should not come as a surprise that a sequel would follow. But this time, besides Sion Sono returning to the directors seat, the highly acclaimed Japanese action director Kenji Tanigaki, best known by his work for the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, was attracted to help choreographing the narrative’s fighting sequences. While this focus on fighting might be an interesting addition, we cannot help but wonder if Shinjuku swan 2 is a worthy sequel or just a cheap cash-in.
A year after Hideyoshi has died, Tatsuhiko (Gou Ayano) is still a successful scout in the rather happy world of eroticism thriving in the Kabuchiko area. But things are different now, as the members of the scouting network have changed a lot and Tatsuhiko’s pal Yosuke (Yuki Kubota) has disappeared.
One night, Tatsuhiko meets Mayumi, a girl who has debt of 2 million yen. While he is finishing up the deal, he is called for a brawl that is currently happening in the area. Morinaga, a Shibuya scout, is crashing Shinjuku, thus violating the deal between Burst and Parasite. A fight ensues.
The ongoing brawls between scouts and the merger between burst and Harlem has, as it is discussed by the important figures of the shinjuku scouting agency, not brought more girls and profit. There is only one solution: expand their turf to Yokohama. Seki (Motoki Fukami), who was born in Yokohama, and Tatsuhiko are chosen to go. A conflict with Wizard, another scouting agency led by Masaki Taki (Tadanobu Asano), is bound to happen.
Shinjuku Swan 2 doesn’t explore, like Shinjuku Swan does, the morally dubious business of erotic pleasure and the exploitation of the female mind and body for male gratification (Narra-note 1). Instead, it chooses to focus on the more superficial and fictional level of violent conflict between two agencies. While this choice makes the narrative lose some of the psychological depth the predecessor had, it does make the narrative lighter to digest by simplifying it into straightforward entertainment.
Moreover, the narrative resembles the typical narrative development of a hero narrative, sketching a near insurmountable situation that the various ‘heroes’ from Burst have to overcome. The focus on the Yakuza families supporting the scouting agencies, brings a light exploration of themes like trust and treason into the narrative. And the interweaved side story of Mayumi and Tatsuhiko makes sure that the narrative provides some moments of sincere emotion, making the narrative a tad more denser.
Shinjuku Swan 2 is shot in very much the same style as its predecessor – and even the narrative opening is structured in very much the same way. (Cine-note 1). Sion Sono’s cinematography preference for camera-movement, fluid or slightly shaky, once again gives the narrative a truly energetic fluidity at times – often infusing the slightly over the top aggression with an exciting energy, an energy further empowered by powerful music. Besides inserting static shots once in a while, the more static cinematographical trips are used, much like its predecessor, to frame conversations broadening and furthering the plot.
The narrative is once again carried by the energetic and often very expressive performance of Gou Ayano. The like-able warmness of Ayano as Tatsuhiko makes sure that there is a certain chemistry between various characters/actors and that the narrative is able to paint lots of enjoyable, heartwarming and often emotional interactions on the silver screen.
While there are no thematic highs and narrative lows to note in Shinjuku swan 2, this more consistent cinematographical package aimed at entertainment does what it wants to do: entertain. Even though the comedy is toned down, the violence towards women almost entirely disappeared, and the exploration of the dubious scouting business completely absent, the likability of Gou Ayano as Tatsuhiko still shines, turning the second part of Tatsuhiko’s trajectory, despite being thematically impotent, into an enjoyable narrative to experience. But for those who want to see a ‘true’ Sion Sono narrative, this enjoyable cash-in will be a letdown.
Narra-note 1: The importance of the image of a woman for male gratification is nevertheless sideways underlined at the contest when the judges ask questions to the various models Burst and Wizard attracted. Women, in this business, are also ‘forced’ to play their own image so that men can feel attracted to them.
Cine-note 1: Towards the second half of the narrative, the cinematography shift to more fixed framing of scenes.