Combustible Celluloid
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With: Koji Yakusho, Kazuya Takahashi, Mickey Curtis, Reiko Kataoka, Taketoshi Naito, Kenichi Yajima, Toshi Shioya, Tomorowo Taguchi
Written by: Masato Harada
Directed by: Masato Harada
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 140
Date: 04/29/1995

Kamikaze Taxi (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gift of Cab

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The one thing that sets film apart from any other medium is editing; the process of juxtaposing images so that the audience relates their separate meanings into an entirely new one. Unfortunately, it is also an element that can cause the undoing of an otherwise good movie.

Kamikaze Taxi is such a movie. As it is, the movie runs 2 1/2 hours. At the San Francisco Film Festival, writer/director Masato Harada announced the film by saying he hadn't yet seen this "shorter" cut. Good grief.

There is a really good action movie floating around somewhere inside Kamikaze Taxi. As a viewer, I was almost able to edit out the slow scenes as I went. Indeed, after it was over, I had myself convinced that I knew exactly where the good 2-hour movie was.

The story is set against a backdrop of social chaos, in which Japanese-born immigrants raised in Peru and Brazil come back to Japan and find themselves treated as outsiders. The movie spends a lot more time than necessary driving this point home; it begins with a good ten minutes of documentary footage showing us actual immigrants telling their stories. One of the movie's main characters, a man named Kantake (Koji Yakusho), is a cab driver who immigrated back to Japan and doesn't speak Japanese very well. This character alone is enough to get the point across.

The story begins with Tatsuo (Kazuya Takahashi), a young gangster getting promoted to what amounts as a pimp for the head of the family. After the "godfather" kills Tatsuo's girlfriend, he exacts his revenge by stealing the $2 million the "godfather" keeps in his bedroom. The "godfather's" goons kill all of Tatsuo's buddies, but Tatsuo gets away by hailing a cab, driven by Kantake. After all, he's got 2 million bucks, what's a little cab fare? This is where the movie gets good. The cab driver doesn't speak Japanese very well, doesn't know his way around the country, and can't even read a map. Tatsuo doesn't have time for prejudices because he's running for his life.

Sound like a Hollywood movie? Director Harada handles it with a freshness not usually found in tinseltown. And, like I said before, the movie makes a lot of stops during its escape journey for social commentary of all kinds. One of the movie's most unusual sequences is when Tatsuo stops to buy a stash of cocaine. He gets all amped up, but nothing comes of it. In a Hollywood movie, he would have to pay for his sins by becoming an addict and dying in his own vomit. But here the coke is part of who Tatsuo is, and we must accept that.

The movie also has a little problem with its women characters. The first half hour had enough derogatory language as to offend even me (just a little).

I don't see that this movie will get picked up in America, not without some editing anyway. If it does get picked up, and the running time is around two hours, I suspect you'll see a very good action movie.

Best Buy Co, Inc.