The members of SMAP, the five-man mega-group that disbanded in December 2016, had their share of hit films, though their central field of operation was always television. Now three of them — Goro Inagaki, Shingo Katori and Tsuyoshi Kusanagi — star in a four-part omnibus film with a limited release, a project unthinkable when Johnny & Associates, the talent agency that made SMAP the biggest boy band in Japanese pop music history, was managing their careers.

Titled “The Bastard and the Beautiful World,” the film is not a desperate ploy by the three stars to stay relevant. Instead it’s conceived as a showcase for their individual talents, with international cult favorite Sion Sono directing the first segment. Veteran theater director Kenji Yamauchi, comic Hikari Ota (Bakusho Mondai) and music video director Yuichi Kodama handle the other three.

Inevitably, this package targets core SMAP fans, but it is not the sort of formulaic exercise the three leads were once churning out. Though their roles — Inagaki as a pianist, Katori as an artist and Kusanagi as a gangster — don’t require them to overly stretch as actors, they do release them from the burden of being SMAP, that is, eternally youthful pop stars. They relax and enjoy themselves while playing characters close to their actual 40-plus ages. Call it a collective cry of freedom and sigh of relief.

The Bastard and the Beautiful World (Kuso Yaro to Utsukushiki Sekai)
Run Time 105 mins

The film opens with a voluptuous young woman (Fumika Baba) running frantically through crowded streets from the henchmen of Mad Dog (Tadanobu Asano), a burly gang boss clad head-to-toe in leather and sporting a black mask-cum-muzzle that signals a level of depravity and madness worthy of Hannibal Lecter. Meanwhile, the aforementioned pianist, Goro, thumps away at Beethoven in his stylishly appointed flat. As you would expect from Sono, these three collide in circumstances violent, bizarre and blackly comic with a riot of visual excess unfolding around them, including the green hair of Joe (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), a bug-eyed ex-boxer in love with Mad Dog. In other words, Sono has made a mix tape of his signature tropes, intending, I hope, a winking self-parody.

Yamauchi’s segment tells a fey modern-day fairy tale about a quiet girl (Sena Nakajima) who can only satisfy her hunger by eating songs. As she sits in the audience silently chomping away, singers become tongue-tied. The artist, a perceptive, understanding sort, figures out what is going on and tries to help, though his solution — to put it as vaguely as possible — might kill some appetites.

Ota’s segment has its comic moments, but is mostly an offbeat melodrama about a no-good gangster and his fed-up wife (Machiko Ono) who, due to circumstances tragic and strange, go searching for their son’s right hand in Okinawa. The director’s rewrite of the script tosses in headline references, from North Korean missiles to Osprey aircraft, but the story remains surreal.

The final segment, featuring the main characters from the first three, is an all-stops-out romp meant to send the audience home in a good mood. But watching Katori singing and dancing his way around a club, followed by a celebrating crowd, I couldn’t help feeling that they were having more fun than I was — and that Mad Dog’s getup would be a really terrific costume for Halloween.

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