Film / Reviews

‘Gangoose’: A modern take on old-school heists

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Heist movies play to everyone’s dream of easy money, earned by criminal smarts and daring. But a convention of the genre, going back to Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 film “The Killing” and beyond, is that the big score is also a big trap for the heroes. They over-reach, under-estimate or otherwise screw up, and all that glorious lucre fades out of reach. The lesson: even clever crime doesn’t pay.

Yu Irie’s over-amped “Gangoose” is similarly old school, with twists borrowed from the source manga, which is in turn based on writer Daisuke Suzuki’s real-life reportage.

The biggest, and in some ways oddest, is that the three heroes — all alumni of the same reform school — target only the ill-gotten gains of outlaws. This makes their job infinitely more dangerous, but the quick-tempered, quick-thinking Saike (Mahiro Takasugi), porky, good-natured Kazuki (Ryo Kato) and hulking, slow-witted Takeo (Daichi Watanabe) have their reasons. They are, we see, not naughty by nature, but by harsh circumstance. Their crimes against crooks become a sort of existential payback for criminal injustices committed against them.

Gangoose (Gyangusu)
Rating
Run Time 120 mins
Language JAPANESE

Like many a manga adaptation, “Gangoose” is loud, frantic and silly in its opening scenes, but Irie, who also wrote the script, introduces serious themes along the way, from child abuse to the graying of Japan.

At one point, a slick-haired gang sub-boss (Nobuaki Kaneko) delivers an impassioned speech to his stone-faced underlings about Japan’s many social ills, which he intends to righteously (at least in his own mind) exploit.

This is all in line with Irie’s previous work, including last year’s “Vigilante,” a dark drama of crime and corruption set in his native Saitama, but in a film that promises caper comedy it feels strained and even absurd, as if George Clooney and company were to start discoursing on gun control in “Ocean’s Eleven.”

The plot of “Gangoose” revolves around their escalating heists, beginning with a safe-robbing job that yields only small change, while raising the ire of the robbed — the aforementioned sub-boss, Kato. They finally hit on a scheme to rip off Kato’s boss, the slinky, pajama-clad Adachi (singer-songwriter/actor Miyavi).

This, on the face of it, is suicidal, but the boys enlist allies, as well as plot out and execute an elaborately staged, tightly choreographed robbery. Needless to say, it doesn’t go quite to plan — and the climax is anything but comedic.

The action, though, not only recycles ancient heist movie tropes, but also takes flight into the realm of kiddie fantasy, where a full-force blow to the forehead with a steel pipe only temporarily inconveniences its gangster target.

Which is perhaps only to be expected in a manga adaptation, but undercuts the film’s pretenses to social realism. And our three heroes remain cartoonish to the end, though in a subplot involving an abused girl (Aoi Ito) we see their more likably human sides as well. As to their eventual fates, if you can’t see them coming, you haven’t been paying attention. Granted, with “Gangoose,” that’s not hard to do.