Katsuhito Ishii’s Smuggler got off to a strange start at Midnight Madness. For one, the print of the film had not arrived by midnight and the rowdy MM audience got some extended burn with the beach ball that is normally bounced around the seats before the show. The film ended up starting at 1am, a full hour late, but was prefaced by an unexpected standup comedy performance from one of the ticket holders. Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, the director of god bless america, saved the day by entertaining the audience during the delay and even though I had some reservations about his film, I have to admit that the man is funny as hell. It was a pleasure to be present for his impromptu performance.
When it was finally time for Ishii to introduce the film, he was bouncing back and forth on the stage in either excitement, nervousness, or both. He was up on stage for a good minute, but I’m not even sure if he said ten words. If the time spent in my seat, waiting for Smuggler to start, could be called weird, then the actual content of the film was downright insane.
Smuggler is about a young compulsive gambler named Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who gets wrongly trapped with an enormous debt from Yakuza members. Kinuta used to be an aspiring actor, but with his new found debt, he is forced to take any job that comes his way. What at first seems like a garbage hauling job, is actually a job transporting mutilated bodies from bloody Yakuza hits. Unfortunately for Kinuta, the nature of his new employment causes him to cross paths with two of the underworld’s deadliest killers, vertebrae (Masanobu Andô) and viscera.
To say that the style of Smuggler is unique would be a massive understatement. I have never seen any of Ishii ‘s other films (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, The Taste of Tea and Funky Forest: The First Contact, to name a few), but going by their names and the reaction of his fans during the screening, I’m sure that Smuggler was ‘normal’ Ishii. I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the actual content of the film. Very cool slow motion action sequences were combined with inordinate amounts of saliva flying out of the mouths of combatants. Violent torture sequences were carried out by a villain in a ridiculous costume, what looked like a diaper and half a marching band uniform. Finally, the dialogue can feel very serious at times and completely ridiculous at others. All of these factors, and others, make Smuggler an interesting experience, but one in which I felt I was missing out on most of the jokes.
I’m not sure if my inability to understand many of the jokes was a result of my limited experience with Ishii films, or if it was a cultural humour that was somewhat lost in translation. Regardless of the reason, I will be going back in Ishii’s filmography to see what I have been missing. Perhaps later I will be able to revisit Smuggler and form some sort of opinion, but until then, I do not have anything too positive or too negative to say about the film. Although, I think that Ishii fans should flock to see Smuggler, as some audience members were laughing hysterically throughout the entire film.