Honored samurai, ruthless ronin, wayward vagabonds, shadowy ninja and helpless villagers... welcome.
It’s been a month. Where the bad mojo have I been? Sick. It was not fun. Some of you may have noticed the cross-post on Feb 22. That was not an accident, but more of a test. The original post is from one of the many substacks I read (in this case the The Flattown Gazette). I dug it and wanted to share it. The process allowed me to add a blurb to it and then send it on its way with a minimum of effort, but a large impact. I get stats on it just like I do my regular posts, but they are completely separate from the stats the original poster sees. Essentially, I doubled the read count for the original poster and engaged my readers with varied and interesting content. Win-win-win. I will definitely be using this method in the future to engage with readers when I cannot. Of course, I will always try to maintain the vision I have in mind for this substack. (Any substack authors out there interested in knowing more about how cross-posting works, I’m more than happy to share my information/experience.)
Speaking of Samuraipunk itself, readership jumped the 150 subscribers mark while I was down. Frankly, I’m stunned. I never expected it. I appreciate the reads, the shares, and your continued support in general. THANK YOU.
Enough babbling! This week, a review of Hana No Asuka-Gumi, aka The Glorious Asuka Gang!
Hana No Asuka-Gumi, aka The Glorious Asuka Gang!, (1988) is a neo-noir crime thriller that is unmistakably influenced by Streets of Fire (1984). While not a rock musical, the closed set "streets" and studio locations that make up New Kabuki Town are deeply reminiscent of Richmond/Battery from the former. From there, apart from the violence and strife, the similarity falls apart; a good thing really as every film should be its own story.
Set in 199X, the film depicts New Kabuki Town, a lawless district (of Tokyo) where gangs, violence and drugs rule. The drug of choice is the Red Pill, and the kingpin is a voiceless matriarch of a large pharmaceutical company watching everything on high, pulling the strings of both the police and the gangs to control the flow of money.
Surprisingly enough, Hana No Asuka-Gumi comes very close to encapsulating the cyberpunk genre. It has the "punk" half down in spades with themes including immigrant populations, tons of neon, prostitution, and class war to name just a few. What’s missing is the technology. There are no smart guns (just pistols and an occasional shotgun), no super drugs (every one doing white lines after opening the pills), no hover vehicles (the two civilian cars look vintage). Yet, there's the police uniforms which are a mash of Japanese riot uniforms and Gestapo type leather long-coats.
What catches the eye are the subtle references to and filming angles that give the heroine, Asuka, an almost cybernetic-enhanced quality to her movement. She's small, lithe, and fast. In one scene she speeds from one hiding place to another, and in other scenes, takes on literal hordes of both cops and gang members, plowing her way through their rolling-wave numbers with ease. It's a treat to watch because the allusion is dead on.
Then there's puppetmaster in her tower of power — Lady Hibari — a pale, unearthly, specter watching from her ivory tower of power. When she speaks, it is through an agent-medium and right-hand man, who gently places his hand to her throat, leans in and then conveys the message to all listening. It's creepy and well done, because the audience is left to wonder just what is happening. (Later, we see her spraying something direct at her face — a treatment — but even partial real-world knowledge of what it is and what it might do, does not lessen the bizarre tinge to the world of the film.) And when Lady Hibari looks down upon the city, it is out a massive window that gives her a Dutch angle view of a light-soaked city. Her worldview is off-kilter which is what undoubtedly drives her ambitious and unrepentant ways.
Returning to the neo-noir themes, there's the crime and violence at every turn, and while the film never crosses over into the black and white hardboiled of the 40s and 50s, the individual character themes and "the blurring of the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and thematic motifs including revenge, paranoia, and alienation" (Wikipedia) are rife. Asuka is no angel, and she's not shy about what she's after —control of the streets. This, too, falls into the cyberpunk and neo-noir theme of the "conflicted antiheroes, trapped in a difficult situation and making choices out of desperation". (Wikipedia)
The film is gorgeous, but may come off as cheesy to some. It's not a Hollywood flick and does have all the hallmarks of 80s films from Japan. If you've seen any from the era, you'll know what I mean. But the Asuka IP is popular. Not only did it spawn a sequel, but several TV series, two anime OVAs and is originally from a comic series that also got a revival not long ago. It should be noted however that the original manga and all the other adaptations have school settings, while the movie from 1988 is set on the mean streets of New Kabuki Town and Asuka's youth is only vaguely hinted at in one scene. It would be proper to say that this movie "strays" the furthest from the source material, and is the better/best for it.
We never meet without parting
Made in DNA
Fantastic review, I'll be sure to catch this one. Keep on trucking, you're a bulls-eye curator.
Glad you're finally feeling better!