Some filmmakers will go to any end for their art. Werner Herzog notoriously put cast and crew through hell in the making of “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) in the Peruvian jungle, with hundreds of indigenous people hired to drag a 320-ton steamship over a hill with real ropes and real injuries.
Yosuke Okuda has similarly pushed realism to a mad extreme in making his second feature, “The Dork, the Girl and the Douchebag” — but with himself as the principal victim. Playing a skinhead extortionist and drug dealer who gets into trouble with the yakuza, he staged his own beatings with real punches, real blood and, in one memorable scene, real rings being torn from his nose.
Described in the program introduction as a “gob in the face” of a Japanese film world that is “overflowing with disinfected movies,” “The Dork” is filled with touches of black humor that make the experience of watching it less than excruciating. Also the film’s portrayals of its socially marginal characters, with the glaring exception of its passive-victim women, have a crazed energy that verges on the cartoonish (though the script is an Okuda original). Forced to scratch out a living as a day laborer and night worker in the four years between his first feature, the similarly violent “Tokyo Playboy Club,” and this second, Okuda knows whereof he speaks.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||141 mins|
But similar to other directors who star in their own films (Takeshi Kitano being a prominent local example), Okuda can’t help making his central character larger than life, if not what anyone would call cool. Despite his shaven head, barely there eyebrows and mouthful of silver-capped teeth, he plays the pick-up artist, foisting his obnoxious presence and potent knock-out pills on one easily fooled or intimidated woman after another.
One victim, however, turns out to be employed by a local yakuza boss (Makoto Ashikawa) as a sex worker. When the boss invades our antihero’s home (a trash-strewn warren he shares with his mentally disturbed mother) and finds his employee tied and gagged, together with revealing photos taken by her captor, he has his minions beat the skinhead to a pulp and orders him to pay ¥2 million.
Meanwhile, a jut-jawed greaser (Shunya Itabashi) with a big heart and low impulse control struggles to find a job (telling one prospective employer he spent a year in prison). When his gainfully employed girlfriend (Eri Iwata) complains about his cheapness — his idea of a birthday treat is a drink at his favorite dive bar — he decides to take up his old trade: drug mule. The bar’s eye-patched manager, who has his own domestic troubles with his pregnant, perpetually complaining mate, hires the greaser to transport weed he has acquired from the skinhead, who is trying desperately to raise cash by the boss’ deadline of one week.
Given the film’s title (with the greaser being the “dork,” the girl being the “girl” and the skinhead being the “douchebag”), we expect the stories of this never-named trio of characters to intertwine, as well as a final showdown between our never-say-die hero and the yakuza. This is a conventional enough narrative arc, though a conventional filmmaker would have trimmed the film’s 141-minute running time and created a hero with a redeeming quality or two.
Okuda could afford to go his own way: He got his film made with the help of crowdfunding, not a conventional production committee. And he has shown up the emptiness of “extreme” local films that are little more than genre parodies. Beatings by professional criminals, as I happen to know, are horrific affairs and Okuda’s film conveys that truth with the impact of a punch to the face.
But I half hope that he bases his next film on “Little Women.”
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