After years of working as actor in plays, tv-dramas, and movies, Shingo Soejima took the leap in 2011 to craft a short narrative. His first short won, much to his surprise, an award at a Japanese short film festival. This compelled him to make more shorts, like Strangers “Stalking Vampire” (2013), Sweet Farewell (2017) and Recapture (2017). Yet, now after years of making shorts, Soejima finally presents his first feature film, Eleven Greed.
One day, Hyodo (Yoshihisa Sadoyama) approaches dirty cop Hashimoto (Kozo Nakagawa) as well as another police-officer Kaieda (Ippei Uesugi) with information on an upcoming drugs-deal. He desires to ruin the deal and run off with the drugs. He promises both of them their fair share.
Not that much later, Yuriko Mido (Mana Nagatsu), who is a criminal coordinator, confronts the young woman (Ayako Nishibun) who was tailing her. She warns her that someone is tailing her. A few seconds later, both women are attacked by a man, but she quickly subdues him. After this surprising incident, Mido decides to hire her as her bodyguard and informs her that her first job concerns a drug-deal between yakuza and foreign smugglers.
One of the yakuza involved in the upcoming drugs deal is Shima (Satoshi Karatani), the successor of the dying boss. The deal needs to go well, otherwise there will be no next chance to rebuild the organisation. Sadly, on the way to the meeting point, the car of his brother Yasu (Yusuke Kitaguchi) suddenly breaks down. Yet, that is not the worst to happen. While the deal, overseen by Mido and her bodyguard, seems to go well, the sellers ultimately refuse to sell their goods at the agreed price.
Eleven Greed boasts a highly engaging narrative structure that is able to keep the spectator engaged and on the edge of his seat from start to finish. The narrative is full of small twists, revealing flashbacks, and pleasant confrontations. As the narrative unfolds the spectator is not only invited to a deadly game of betrayals, conflicts, and thievery with bribes, love affairs, rape attempts, and religious cults, but also with a buttload of punches, kicks, sword-clashing, and penetrating bullets.
As the title implies, what unfolds in Eleven Greed is, in essence, a drugs-deal gone wrong due to greed. Most people involved in the deal – be it the buyers, the sellers, or the thieves – are in some way or another driven by some form of greed. Even Shima, who appears, at first glance, to be singularly devoted to bringing the clan to its former glory, only has such devotion to this cause because he is intoxicated by his desire to helm the clan. And Kaieda ultimately agrees to join the two others in their attempt to exploit the deal for their own gain because they seduce him with promotion and enough money to deal with his current problems.
Yet, as the narrative structure is structured around violent confrontations, it is important that the confrontations are well-choreographed. Luckily, Eleven Greed does not disappoint. The spectator is not only able to enjoy the nicely choreographed fighting sequences, but Soejima frames these confrontations in a very appealing and engaging way. The combination of good choreography and Soejima’s sense of compositional style ultimately results in a highly entertaining finale with various visual highlights (Narra-note 1).
As for the composition, Eleven Greed opens with visual bang. Yet, this opening, which is a veritable showcase for Soejima’s compositional skills, is not merely a visual piece to dazzle the spectator. Beyond being a highly energetic composition, which elegantly plays with evocative imagery and decorative techniques (e.g. slow-motion), Soejima’s opening introduces two narrative fragments – i.e. a young girl firing a gun and a man who almost lost all his money by gambling – that puzzle and, by doing so, whet the appetite of the spectators.
The rest of the composition, while not as energetic as the opening, retains a dynamic feel. This is not only due to Soejima’s use on shaky framing – a framing emphasizing the roughness of some interactions and heightening the tension of others, but also due to his sudden shifts in style (e.g. from shaky to fluid dynamism), swift changes in pace – often to generate tension, and his continued use of decorations like slow-motion and flashes of evocative imagery (e.g. to visualize the mixture of drugs with blood) (Cine-note 1, music-note 2).
The visual effects (e.g. the blood-splatter, …etc.) might not be overly convincing, but they are nevertheless serviceable – these decorations do what they are supposed to do: pleasantly enhance the impact of the violence. The special effects (blood on the face, blood-soaking shirts, …), in this sense, help in making the fiction of perforating bullets somewhat more believable.
The low-budget nature of the Eleven Greed is felt most in the sound-design. The lack of decent sound-equipment causes many scenes to be marked by noise or spatial echoes. Moreover, the sounds utilized to heighten the impact of the hits and kicks in fighting-sequences, while decent, feel a bit too artificial – a bit too eighties – at certain times. Yet, any spectator who understands the limits low-budget film-making imposes and can accept the effect of such limits on filmmaking, will have no trouble enjoying Soeijma’s narrative.
Eleven Greed is, despite its obvious low-budget nature, a highly entertaining and engaging action-thriller. Soejima, in fact, proves with his debut feature that all a filmmaker needs is a great script, a decent cast, and a sense of composition. In short, Eleven Greed signals Soejima’s readiness to tackle bigger projects. And we can not wait to see what he has in store for us.
Narra-note 1: There are some light-hearted touches in Eleven Greed. Luckily, they are subdued enough not to interfere with the seriousness of the general narrative.
Cine-note 1: The fact that Soeijma relies on shaky framing to heighten the aggressive tension between certain characters also means that he utilizes more static moments when no such relational tension is present.
Music-note 1: The creation of tension does not only depend on the use of shaky framing or sudden moments of more fast-paced cutting, but also on the effective music that accompanies tensive moments in the narrative.