A current output of two feature films a year must feel like a holiday for workaholic director Miike Takashi, who pumped out an astonishing total of seven features in 2001 alone. If you do the maths — at that time in 2001, this equalled Wong Kar-wai’s output of feature films for his entire 13-year career since his first film in 1988. Despite his output, Takashi has not been content to stick to a particular genre and has tackled family dramas as well his more signature violent films. While his quality may vary, his consistency is quite astonishing given his output.
The unusually titled Big Bang Love, Juvenile A is Miike Takashi’s first feature film for 2006, and a rather esoteric piece compared with his previous commercial effort The Great Yokai War. While he retains some of the impenetrability of the complete brain-exploder that was Izo, the film develops a coherent narrative and, through all the weirdness, evolves into a rather Lynchian piece of cinema. The biggest hurdle is unfortunately the beginning, where the universe of the story goes through a process of being constructed, which somehow involves a half-naked tattooed guy performing modern dance.
Orbiting what is essentially a murder-mystery are two main characters with similar backgrounds but with personalities expressed through quite different archetypes. Jun is quiet and rather feminine, working at a gay bar before killing a customer. Shiro epitomises everything that Jun isn’t: visceral, violent and masculine. Once the story kicks in, the viewer is confronted with one killing the other; and thus the mystery is established. As the murder investigation commences, the film retrospectively explores the relationship the two men had. While the film’s English title sounds obviously homoerotic, it also hints at the film’s significant theme of love and eternity, something also implied by the Japanese title meaning “4.6 Billion Years of Love”. Director Miike attempts to decorate his film with a few eternity metaphors, such as an ancient pyramid that oddly sits next to the prison and an inexplicable giant space rocket sitting in a nearby gantry. While these symbols imbue the film with an intriguing science-fiction sentiment, they seem rather misplaced and ultimately go nowhere.
The set design is an interesting highlight to the film, with deliberate lighting creating a sense of intimacy. Many times this lent the feeling that the film was more like a stage play, as characters appeared and disappeared. The acting performances in the film were consistently good throughout, but worked within a contrived artistic framework that did not often allow for natural acting styles. While Matsuda Ryûhei delivers a solid performance, he is basically playing the same tacitly tortured character seen in about every other movie he’s been in.
At times Big Bang Love, Juvenile A will be a tough obstacle course for most viewers, but around its elements of minimalism and weirdness it weaves a quite simple and intriguing mystery tale. While it may not be an entirely rewarding experience, it proves to be a mesmerising trip none the less.