SANCTUARY is a live-action version of a popular Japanese comic book which was also adapted into an animated film (SANCTUARY: THE MOVIE). This straightforward adaptation follows the exploits of two young men who team up to wrest control of Japan from its aging, stagnant elite by going,
respectively, into politics and crime.
Two childhood buddies, Hojo and Asami, who together survived the horrors of Cambodia under Pol Pot, work from different ends to transform Japan's political and social structure. Hojo is a Yakuza (gangster) working his way up within the mob, while Asami works for Sakura, a senior member of the Diet
(Japan's parliament). With the help of a blackmail scheme--courtesy of Hojo and his sidekick Tashiro--Sakura is convinced to retire, enabling Asami to run for Sakura's seat in the Diet.
Hojo is eager to unseat his superior, aging mobster Don Sagara, but must contend with the brutal and reckless Tokai, who resents Hojo's less violent, more business-like approach to Yakuza activities. Detective Ishihara, an attractive young woman, watches Hojo's rise with interest and confronts him
on several occasions, although she is never able to find cause to arrest him.
Asami, with Hojo's help, creates the "New Wind Party" and breaks with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. He wins the seat and confronts the LDP Deputy Chief, vowing to "eliminate lowlife politicians who can't and won't do anything."
Hojo finally secures Tokai's cooperation and unseats Don Sagara as leader of their alliance. He makes plans to recruit an army of soldiers from Hong Kong and Okinawa. "We're taking over Japan," he declares, and he invites Ishihara to join him.
An overly faithful adaptation of the comic book, SANCTUARY is blessed with solid acting and a good script but suffers from thoroughly unimaginative direction and cinematography. From its look and production values, it could well have been a TV movie. Like the animated film, it opts for a visual
scheme of pastel colors, brightly lit exteriors and interiors, and modern artless decor, but little in the way of traditional crime movie atmosphere. This is a far cry from the flamboyant, stylized Yakuza films of the 1970s, which had fierce action, studio sets, and emphasis on code and ritual.
Still, SANCTUARY is more pointed than the anime version in its critique of Japan's ruling elite, bringing home more sharply the contrast between the older and younger generations. The film also benefits from the casting of actors who look their parts, unlike the fey, caucasian-looking characters
presented in the manga (comic) and anime. With more money and more vigorous direction, SANCTUARY could have been a truly innovative and attention-getting modern Japanese crime drama--on a par with the Hong Kong thrillers of recent years, but with more substance. (Violence, profanity, sexualsituations.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: SANCTUARY is a live-action version of a popular Japanese comic book which was also adapted into an animated film (SANCTUARY: THE MOVIE). This straightforward adaptation follows the exploits of two young men who team up to wrest control of Japan from its ag… (more)