Mostly known as writer or co-writer of narratives like Sion Sono’s Cold Fish (2010) and Norman England’s New Neighbour (2013), Yoshiki Takahashi grasps the chance to present his first feature film. Utilizing a story by Yuki Kobayashi, Takahashi tries to confront the spectator with the dangers of their own demand for a ‘sanitized’ society.
One day, the safety patrol of Fujimi town sets out to evict Kazuyuki Komuro (-). Yet, upon forcing themselves into the house, Komuro attacks them and holds them hostage.
At the same time, Einosuke Momoyama (Manzo Shinra), Fujimi’s community head, meets up with police chief Iida (-) to ask her to solve the nuisance that some youths are creating in a local park. Iida responds that as these youths do not cause any material damage, the police cannot intervene.
On his way to meet police chief Iida, police officer Kenji Fukama (Yohta Kawase), hears about the hostage situation. He promptly decides to offers a helping hand. Throwing all police protocols out of the window, he enters the building, throws Komuro on the ground, hits him a few times and roughly forces him outside. When Anna (Aya Saiki), a stripper, is by two men, he steps in, smashing their heads in.
Rageaholic is a narrative that explores how the patriarchal law can become the support of evil as well as how certain bursts of anger can function, at a certain level, as an attempt to protect to radical freedom of the subject to manipulate the limits of the law to ensure a place for his own being. In short, with his narrative, Takahashi violently critiques the current tendences within Japanese society – the demand for compliancy and the refusal to grant each subject the right to occupy his own place of not-fitting.
Already early in the narrative, Takahashi contrasts the blind devotion to the letter of the law (e.g. the safety patrol of Fujimi town waiting to cross an empty road till the light turns green, Momoyama’s demand to uphold social norms and puritan morals, …etc.) with the transgression of said law (e.g. Fukama not following the traffic rules, …) as well as the desire to submit others to the letter of the law, with the attempt to escape its weight (e.g. Komuro locking himself up in his house, youths indulging in the pleasure of drink, dance and sex in the park).
In the case of Komuro, his acts and signifiers are, as visually revealed by the narrative, dictated by a paranoic and persecutory dynamic. This dynamic does not only explain why he locks himself up within his house – to avoid the vicious eye of the societal Other, but also explain why cannot see the safety patrol as anything other than burglars of the hidden object he has.
Fukama, on the other hand, plays with the law. Yet, we should not make the mistake of thinking that he feels beyond the law. Rather, it is only because there is a law that he can playfully transgress it. Yet, his transgressions have an ironic flavour as he, as a police officer, is supposed to represent the law, to be the image of the law within the societal field. It is, as a matter of fact, precisely because he is a police officer – one that played an important role in ridding the town of yakuza – that he knows which kind of transgressions will be glossed over by the eye of the Other as law (Narra-note 1). Yet, his sudden explosions of rage – the invasion of wild jouissance that only finds its motoric discharge in acts of violence – ultimately gets him into trouble (Narra-note 2).
Three years after Fukama’s violence, Fujimi city has changed drastically. The safety patrol and Momoyama have succeeded in externalizing their patriarchal uber-ego (Narra-note 3). They transformed the particular precipitation of the conservative law into an present Other that is both violently persecutory and highly paranoic in nature – rules and manners make all happy. The prowling eyes of the cute owl mascot and the high-pitched repetition of the slogan are not merely reminders that the Other of the fatherly law exists, but signs that make the patriarchal Other into a constant persecutory presence (Psycho-note 1).
While such oppressive system successfully diminishes crime, it also radically inhabits the freedom of the subject to express his subjectivity, curtailing his right to be a subject by being allowed to play with the limits imposed by the law. Those who refuse to obey the alienating law are radically dehumanized, reduced to insects that need to be annihilated before they start defiling, infecting and corrupting society’s moral peace. Moreover, the protectors of such law, the hands of the all-seeing precursory Other, quickly assume the right to enjoy the other, to enjoy him by subjecting him to the violence of the letter of the law – the law turns, in other words, into a tool for violent exploitation.
What stands out in the composition of Rageaholic is the balance that Takahashi has found between adding a stylish touch to his visuals whileengendering a dystopian mood. The stylish touch is evident in the many elegantly composed (semi-)static shots within the composition – shots that thoughtfully exploit the geometrical dimension to create pleasing visual tensions and fleeting moments of scopic pleasure. Another element that plays an important role in giving Takahashi’s composition its stylish flavour are the subtle visual decorations (e.g. the wipe transitions, the use of slow-motion, the subtle use of jump-cuts, …etc.), the colour-schemes, and the bursts of cooler rhythmical musical accompaniment.
These stylish flourishes, luckily, do not hinder the blossoming of a sense of uneasiness and dystopian dread. The horror-flavoured music that accompanies the title sequence, for instance, does not merely make the spectator feel ill at ease, but elegantly prepares him/her for the boiling anger and the bursts of violence that will follow. Besides using disconcerting musical pieces throughout the narrative, the atmosphere of despair is further nourished by the straightforward framing of the violent acts and the bloody impact of such violence (Sound-note 1). It is this kind of framing that undercuts any kind of feeling of hope that the bloody finale might have evoked (Effect-note 1, Narra-note 4).
The narrative structure of Rageaholic, at least for the first half, intermingles the unfolding of three threads at the same time. By unfolding each narrative in a fragmentary way, Takahashi succeeds in thoughtfully playing with the signifier and keeps his audience engaged. In fact, he gives the spectator enough signifiers to fleetingly still his hunger for meaning yet withholds some to keep him/her craving for more, to find out what happens next. On the other hand, Takahashi struggles to make the narrative rhythm fluid enough, introducing obstacles – scenes that go on a bit too long – that make the road to its bloody finale feel longer that it truly is.
Rageaholic is a great dystopian narrative. It might not be the most subtle narrative about how the law can become a support for evil and become a tool to annihilate the subject’s right to play with society’s rules, ideals, and demands to embark on the path to become subject, but with all the blood that flows and punches that are delivered Takahashi clearly gives expression to his fear of certain right-wing tendencies that linger within Japanese society.
Narra-note 1: The reason why the safety patrol of Fujimi follows the letter of the law is simply because the law, as made present in their subjective experience by their uber-ich, perceives all.
Psycho-note 2: Of course, the presence of the eye of the Other does not completely squash the ability of the subject to transgress the law or flee its oppressive presence. Yet, such acts of rebellion should remain hidden and avoid the patriarchal societal light of ‘meek happiness’. Once such act is perceived by this light, it will be violently eradicated to ensure the image of peacefulness persists.
As Rageaholic shows, such system creates a situation in which the oppressive peacefulness of the societal field creates exiles, subjects who do not fit or do not want to fit within such system, while remaining blind for the truly vile excesses of jouissance.
Narra-note 3: Momoyama fully embodies the sexist patriarchal law. The fact that he destroyed Fujimi’s places of adult-entertainment but keeps two well-chested beauties by his side is not contradictory. The ultimately aim of such destruction is to take away the subjective freedom of women to utilize her own sexualized body – this freedom is vile – and the presence of two women is to continually please his fantasy of being the ‘patriarchal’ object-of-desire.
Narra-note 4: The finale also underlines that something remains highly problematic in Fukama’s rage. This something is nothing other than jouissance as such.
Sound-note 1: Of course, the dull sound of the punches and kicks also plays a role in reverberating the gloom within the atmosphere.
Effect-note 1: It is quite evident that the blood-splatter is ‘fake’ and added in post-production but it does not hinder the spectator’s enjoyment.