The oeuvre of Tatsushi Omori is littered with narratives that received awards, like The Whispering of the Gods (2005), A Crowd of Three (2010), and The Ravine of Goodbye (2013). His Mother (2020) even received a few Japan Academy prizes. While most of his films explore social and sexual dramas, Omori shakes things up by adding a violent yakuza drama to his oeuvre. Can he impress audiences once again?
One night, somewhere in contemporary Japan, Bobby Womack’s “What is This?” is blasting from a passing car. The driver of the car is Koichiro Mutoh (Daisuke Miyagawa), an illegal taxi driver on the verge of bankruptcy. Mikiya Anzai (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a former yakuza executive, sits next to him in the passenger’s seat. Behind them, on the backseat, three people are seated – physical labourer Shigeru Hamada (Tomokazu Miura), an assassin by the name of Masahara Hagiwara (Takumi Saito) and a hooker, Miru Sakaguchi (Tina Tamashiro).
These five are on their way to a love hotel which is used by the Sugiyama-gumi for money laundering. With the help of the front desk clerk, Daiki Yano (Hio Miyazawa), who gave them inside information, they succeed in robbing the clan blind. Sugiyama’s Oyabun, furious and humiliated by this fiasco, force Kazuo Hachiya (Nao Ohmori), a detective, to hunt the robbers down.
Goodbye Cruel World might be a narrative that that is all about kill or be killed and to enjoy the other or be enjoyed by him, but, in fact, Omori’s narrative is all about the desire to escape this bloody field of imaginary conflict, this space where criminal perversion thrives and where the thirst of jouissance opens up the path to self-destruction. Omori, in fact, shows how imaginary dual field acts as magnetic force, viciously pulling each subject caught within its trap to the centre of destruction. Is escaping the tangle of perverse criminality possible? If so, how can one say goodbye to such cruel world?
That Goodbye Cruel World is about escaping such magnetic field of bloody destruction is underlined by the fact that for some the aim of the robbery is not the pleasure of money as such, but to use the profit to chase a desire, a desire that lies beyond the criminal imaginary field. The cash is, thus, merely a tool to escape one’s current position, a position so nicely labelled by Hachiya as scum.
Mikiya Anzai, for instance, uses his part of the money to rebuild his relationship with his wife Midori (Reiko Kataoka) and daughter. In other words, he hopes that his changed financial position will persuade his wife, as Other, to give him a chance to re-assume his position as father and husband. By showing her the stack of bills, he does not simply underline his ability to re-try the exploitation of her father’s hotel, but implies that he can be the husband and father she desires him to be. Yet, as he is a former Yakuza, will his scummy past not come back to haunt him and complicate his efforts to assume a mundane position within society?
Miru Sakaguchi, on the other hand, wants to use her part to escape her work as prostitute and Koiichiro Mutoh, her boyfriend, wants to cancel his debt with the money. Yet, their desire gets poisoned by the demand for jouissance. Miru Sakaguchi’s acts and signifiers are driven by a pressuring need for money. This need does not only underpin her choice to grant the male Other her body as a sexual object, but also causes her to approach Hagiwara to ask for more well-paid jobs. That the debt-free Koiichiro Mutoh follows Miru when she approaches Hagiwara implies that such thirst lingers within him and that the promise of ‘easy’ money has seduced him.
The spectator easily feels that Miru and Koiichiro’s desire for money has a self-destructive finality. Miru readily offers herself as sexual object to the exploitative tendencies of the male other for money and Koiichiro knows how to enjoy himself into debt. The addictive desperation for money that characterizes Miru is, for that matter, nothing other than an indirect invitation to the criminal other to (ab)use her.
Yet, we should not ignore the fact that in the case of Miru the poisoning of her desire by jouissance is enabled by the dimension of love. It is, as a matter of fact, only because Daiki Yano offered her a phantasmatic image of being together in a place where both can escape their subjective misery and the societal impulses to exploit the other that the hit on the love-hotel came into being.
Masahara Hagiwara, the assassin, is radically structured by the logic of the criminal perversion – he realizes the position of scum within society perfectly, operating from a space of vile transgression. As he assumes the narcissistic position of the Thing, it is not surprising that he considers others as mere tools in his arsenal, as mere paws to sacrifice, as he sees fit, to secure his own safety and ensure his profit (Psycho-note 1).
Hamada is sick of the exploitative dynamics that structure society. According to him, the cruelty of the world is not simply due to the rein of the capitalistic dynamic, but how its structure is maintained by those who have so much wealth its destroys their financial thirst and those who, with some backing of those who drown in wealth, can secure a position of political power. In other words, the cruelty of the imaginary and jouissance within society is, at least partially, engendered by the continued refusal to enact any socialistic measures and redistribute wealth. It is against such injustice, as embodied in his view by the figure of the governor, that Hamada decides to take up the arms and fight.
The composition ofGoodbye Cruel World is lavishly dynamic. This dynamism is not only function of Omori’s reliance on all kinds of camera movement, but also due to the thoughtful way the cut is utilized and the fluidly integrated visual flourishes (e.g. slow-motion). With his dynamic approach, Omori does not simply aim to create a pleasant visual rhythm, but utilize the flexibility of such dynamism to influence and engage the spectator. Sudden shifts to shaky framing, for instance, are utilized by him to reverberate the tension within a given situation to the spectator.
What ensures the visual pleasure of Goodbye Cruel World is not simply the many pleasant tracking moments nor the nicely composed static shots, but the lighting and the colour-design. The only reason why the elegance of certain dynamic moments and the compositional beauty of certain shot-compositions please the spectator is because the approach to colour-schemes and lightning set-ups gives such moments their darkish stylishness. In a certain sense, the colour- and lightning design succeeds in giving the crude and dirty atmosphere of the narrative a certain tastefulness.
Yet, the subtle stylishness of Goodbye Cruel World is also function of the musical accompaniment. By thoughtfully adding musical decorations to his composition, Omori succeeds in giving the unfolding of the narrative a pleasant flair of coolness.
The balance between crudeness and stylishness is also evident in the way the violence is framed. Omori has, in fact, found a nice balance between given the violence a cool visual flair – a coolness that will be enjoyed by many spectators, while also emphasizing the dull and crude impact of the violence on the victim’s body – blood splatters and flows royally.
Goodbye Cruel World offers a stylish exploration of the cruel call for destruction that structures the perverse criminal field. As bodies accumulate and blood richly flows, Omori slowly reveals that it is precisely because this field is dual and imaginary in nature that any disturbance of its frail equilibrium can cause the violent collapse of its structure. Omori’s Goodbye Cruel World might not be an easy watch, but it is must-see for any fan of the crime or yakuza genre and for those who are seeking an injection of depression.
Psycho-note 1: For more information about The Thing and its link to criminality we gladly refer to chapter 7 of Marl De Kesel’s Eros and Ethics: Reading Jacques Lacan’s seminaire VII (2009): https://www.academia.edu/8690125/Eros_and_Ethics_Reading_Jacques_Lacan_s_S%C3%A9minaire_VII_Albany_SUNY_Press_2009