Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Darkside Blues (1994)

Let me see if I can get this right.  The Hazuki family run a corporation called Persona Century that basically owns most of the world.  A group of resistance fighters (the Anti-Personas) struggle against them and their Enhanced Human assassins.  Mai (Kotono Mitsuishi) and Kenzo (Akio Otsuka) are a couple of mercenaries (?) who call themselves Messiah, and they are hired by a wounded revolutionary named Tatsuya to protect him.  Meanwhile, the nebulous Darkside (Akira Natsuki) comes on the scene in his intergalactic carriage, and there’s a young boy named Katari (Nozomu Sasaki) who may be more than he seems (but what does he seem to be?).

If ever a nation embraced the whole Goth thing (and embraced it early), I would suggest from an outsider’s perspective that it was the Japanese.  At least partially inspired by the punk movement, Goths love their eyeliner, puffy shirts, and late Eighteenth/early Nineteenth Century outerwear.  While, Noboyasu and Yoshimichi Furukawa’s Darkside Blues showcases at least two out of three of these things, it also combines them with the other thing the Japanese seem to love: science fiction.  Perhaps the best example of this melding of aesthetics is the Vampire Hunter D franchise, but unfortunately, we’re not discussing those.  So, for example, the Hazukis live on an asteroid that orbits the Earth.  The aforementioned Enhanced Humans are basically psychotic cyborgs.  There is a machine that turns people into gold statues.  Mai has a wrist blaster.  On the Goth side, the Hazuki manse is baroque and grotesque like Dracula’s castle is typically portrayed.  The first shot of the film is a clock with thirteen hours on it.  A gross-looking spider swings off it and drapes it in red webbing.  Darkside dresses like Baron Frankenstein (though I would contend the biggest influence on the character is likely Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, another Goth icon), and his horse-drawn carriage moves through time and space (he enters the film via a ripple in the fourth dimension, which I always thought was Time, but what do I know?) like the Silver Surfer’s surfboard or The Doctor’s TARDIS.  Like everything else in the film, however, the two artistic tastes just kind of float around in each other’s proximity.  They don’t combine with each other, they don’t really define anything in the film, and there’s so much left unsaid about almost everything having anything to do with them, it’s confusing as hell.

Add to this the fact that Darkside is also a drifter cowboy figure (he does wear boots and spurs) in the tradition of Yojimbo, High Plains Drifter, A Fistful of Dollars, Last Man Standing, et al (and please note, I’m fully aware that two of these are remakes of another of them).  He appears in a town that needs him, does something to save them (this is extremely arguable in this case), and then kind of fades away.  He stays at the local small time hotel with the “colorful” proprietor (here an old woman and her cat).  Mai naively falls in love with him, even though this love can never be requited (he’s a loner, Mai; a rebel).  What Darkside doesn’t have like a cowboy is a six-shooter.  Instead, he does this thing where he transports whomever he’s with into another dimension.  There, they can battle, relive past traumas, and so forth.  Darkside refers to what he does as “Renewal,” like he’s an amalgamation of a shrink and some New Age bullshit guru.  Instead of dueling in the streets, Darkside forces people to face the truth about themselves.  That said, he’s not above actually fighting and/or killing people in this dreamtime realm of his; it’s just not his go-to maneuver.  

Doorways play a large part in the film.  Everything from windows to mirrors to, yes, doorways are employed, and they relate to the idea of portals.  Katari carries around a small glass globe, and he uses it to open doorways to (I’m assuming here) the Fourth Dimension.  This same portal manifests in the gigantic mirror in the Hazuki compound.  It also appears in the entrance to Tamaki Hazuki’s personal torture chamber.  Darkside makes his arrival through all of these simultaneously.  The doors to the Mirage Hotel where our protagonist stays are focused on at great length, and the lobby itself is a portal to the individual rooms, which I would imagine is really convenient if you’re a lodger there (or a bellboy).  I believe all of these in some way or another involve the concept of Renewal that Darkside keeps hitting on, because they all deal, diametrically or obliquely, with time, mistakes of the past, and the opportunity to change oneself.  The darkness in which Darkside envelops his “patients” and/or enemies is Truth.  Some will be transformed by it, others will be destroyed by it.

Nonetheless, for all that I think the film is trying to do, it fails fairly miserably.  The primary reason for this is because the film is so hellbent on the bigger picture that the details which should support it are indistinct, undeveloped, and, in many cases, unresolved.  The world the movie tries to set up is hinted at just enough to give us a rough idea and nothing more.  There is no resolution to the Mai/Darkside relationship.  There is no resolution to the conflict between the revolutionaries and the Hazukis.  We never even see the patriarch of the family, and there is a sister who is shown very briefly in the beginning and then totally written off with a throwaway line.  Brother Enji Hazuki shows up but never interacts with the rest of his family.  Darkside is likely one of the most passive characters in the history of storytelling, despite the importance implied by his appearance in it.  Katari is introduced as a character who will be integral to the story.  He isn’t.  At all.  The film only settles one storyline, and even there, we’re left hanging with where this is going.  In fact, the film doesn’t really end at all.  It just stops.  Was there supposed to be a sequel?  Is there a series?  Is this based on a manga that explains any of this crap better than this film does?  If you care about the answers to any of these questions, I really can’t help you, because I found myself not giving the slightest of shits (okay, I did do some digging just for the sake of curiosity, and the manga this is based on was created by Hideyuki Kikuchi, who also created Vampire Hunter D, so there’s one mystery solved).  Darkside Blues is so sketchy it should have been animated in pencils only.

MVT:  The film has all the elements for a fun, interesting tale.

Make or Break:  If you can make it through the first five minutes of this movie, and you like what you see, you’ll be fine.  If all you’re doing by the end of that time is squinting at the screen and scratching your head, you’ll be better off tuning out.

Score: 4/10    

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