Overheard at a screening of KAMIKAZE TAXI: one audience member remarked to his date, "Now you know why editors win Oscars." Flabby extraneous scenes make this expose on Japanese society as ungainly as a 500-lb. sumo wrestler in a hammock.
Tatsuo (Takahashi Kazuya) is a rising hoodlum in a Tokyo yakuza mob, but he's disgusted by the corruption he sees when the syndicate introduces him to their political patron Ishida (Kenishi Yajima), a member of the Diet and a former kamikaze pilot who whitewashes Japanese war atrocities, and in
private sadistically beats the high-class prostitutes Tatsuo delivers. When one girl is murdered, Tatsuo and friends impulsively decide to get even by stealing $2 million in mob money from Ishida's safe. The yakuza old guard are outraged by the betrayal and pitilessly hunt down and execute the
novice thieves. Only Tatsuo escapes, thanks mainly to hulking, illiterate, but serenely wise cab driver Kazumasa (Keji Yakusho), one of many recent arrivals from the Japanese-descended peasant community in Peru. Evolving from hostage to chauffeur to true pal, Kazumasa helps Tatsuo evade pursuit,
then takes his wounded fare to a secluded self-improvement resort to recover. Although it's suicide, Tatsuo insists on going back to kill Animaru (Mickey Curtis), his erstwhile boss. Sure enough, he's gunned down immediately. Kazumasa, instead of taking the $2 million and walking away, completes
Tatsuo's mission. With jungle stealth, he sweeps through Ishida's compound, slaying the politician and all his yakuza lackeys.
A documentary-style opening explains that KAMIKAZE TAXI was filmed from April to May 1994 and underscores the scandals that rocked Japan in that period, from corruption in the Diet to racism against foreign-born citizens (Peruvian immigrants in particular) to the apocalyptic "Supreme Truth"
religious cult that released poison gas in the Tokyo subway. Writer-director Masato Harada, a US-educated former film critic and journalist, explores a catalogue of Japanese social ills, but doesn't know when to quit. After a frenetic start (Tatsuo and his cohorts romp around, literally, like a
pack of frisky puppies), KAMIKAZE TAXI idles for an unbearably tedious stopover at the self-improvement spa. In sequences that seem to go on forever, Tatsuo, Kazumasa, assorted salarymen, and a Charlie Chaplin mime (!) perform confidence-building exercises, hold pillow fights, and bond all around.
The sessions build to Kazumasa's emotional monologue about his home village back in Peru laid waste by fanatical Maoist guerillas--a history that shames the self-absorbed sophisticates listening in. Vital as that payoff is, it doesn't justify the full hour's worth of footage that precedes it. As
Animaru lies dying at the end, he asks who Kazumasa is and why he's done this. The big guy begins politely retelling his life story, and for a moment the viewer fears that indeed Harada will keep his camera running and recap the whole yarn all over again. He doesn't. Whew! KAMIKAZE TAXI should be
memorable for its righteous anger, cross-cultural tapestry, and well-acted characters, but the massive cinematic indulgence obscures more passionate concerns. (Violence, sexual situations, adult situations, substance abuse, profanity, nudity.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: Overheard at a screening of KAMIKAZE TAXI: one audience member remarked to his date, "Now you know why editors win Oscars." Flabby extraneous scenes make this expose on Japanese society as ungainly as a 500-lb. sumo wrestler in a hammock. Tatsuo (Takahash… (more)