“[A fabulous confrontation] with the inherent dimension of the self-destructive pleasure, evoking the effects capitalism have on society as a whole along the way.”
Takashi Miike is a director that doesn’t need any introduction. Bursting on the international stage with Audition (1999), his human drama gone wrong, he also delighted or affronted audiences with Ichi the killer (2001) and visitor Q (2001). Violence has always had an important presence in Miike’s oeuvre – consisting now of more than 100 movies – and Graveyard of honour is no different.
Miike’s Graveyard of honour should not be seen a remake of Kinij Fukasaku’s movie of the same name, but as a re-imaging of the Goro Fujita’s novel Jingi no Hakaba about the real-life Yakuza Rikio Ishikawa. Instead of framing the narrative in the original setting of post-WWII Japan as Kinji Fukasaku in 1976 did, the narrative is shifted to the years surrounding the burst of Japan’s bubble economy; a period characterized by social upheaval that would give rise to the Aum Shinrikyo cult for instance.
When we meet Rikuo Ichimatsu (Goro Kishitani) for the first time, he is nothing more than an unimportant blonde-dyed dishwasher in a restaurant. One night, when the Sawada family boss and some underlings are having dinner at the restaurant, a lone gunman enters the scene – Yes, Miike we saw you – and starts firing away. A shoot-out follows and the gunman is only stopped, when Rikuo hits him with a bar stool.
Having saved the life of the Sawada boss, Rikuo is catapulted to a high-ranking position in the family. But Rikuo’s arrogance and incalculable nature soon becomes problematic, causing him to shoot his own boss over a misunderstanding.
Graveyard of honour boasts a fluent, but rough documentary styled cinematography to stage its grim and bleak world, where the impact of the violent acts, with or without blood, is ever sensible for the spectator. The arrogant, cold-blooded Ichimatsu Rikuo – wonderfully played by Goro Kishitani – embodies the irrational nature of violence completely. What appears to be most unsettling for the spectator is the very detachment Rikuo, and often others as well, reveal with respect to their own violent acts. This uneasiness is further invigorated by the more emotionally detached framing of the violent excesses, enabling the irrationality, the beyond sense, to come in all its repugnance to the fore.
For all the emotional detachment Rikuo reveals, there are moments where emotion, be it negative or positive, erupts through that coldness. The most notable moment occurs when, in a state of beginning paranoia, Rikuo shoots down his family-boss, an act that destabilizes him, as it confronts him with his own comportment. This destabilization and its consequences are the focus of the narrative and turn Graveyard of honour in a character study, a so tangible framed study of one’s descent into violent paranoia and into the excesses of pleasure (drugs, woman, gambling, … ) by which Rikuo puts himself beyond the rules of society in general and the rules of the yakuza in particular.
It is in this respect not unimportant to underline how Japan’s socio-economic evolution runs parallel with Rikuo’s path of self-destruction, his path to death. Besides giving us a glance at the workings of the yakuza, it also provides a somewhat more implicit insight into Japanese society before and after the burst of the bubble economy. Rikuo can be seen as the narrative symbol for the economic rise and the fall and turmoil that marked the two last decades of the twentieth century, but, more than that, he symbolizes the very subject capitalism produces, a subject losing himself in self-destructive pleasure.
What Miike created is not only offensive because it reveals the irrationality of violence as such, but that he confronts us with the inherent dimension of the self-destructive pleasure, evoking the effects capitalism have on society as a whole along the way. As intense and violent the yakuza narrative of Graveyard of honour may be, its true offensive nature lies in that confronting social criticism and depressing study of self-destruction. And for that, we should be grateful.