The three films in the Black Society Trilogy are not a typical trilogy per se. What you normally see in a trilogy is a series of interlocking stories or three stories fitting into a larger narrative. In this case, the trilogy is actually a series of movies that are thematically linked. They don’t share a common central character despite there being one actor that is in all three who happens to play a different role in each film. The movies in the Black Society Trilogy are all character focused crime dramas. Underneath this, they also explore themes of heritage, escape, isolation from feeling out of place.
The Films: 4/5
Each film has its own distinct story from the other two. The first, Shinjuku Triad Society is a brutal story of two brothers and the triad. One is a police officer trying to take down the Triad and the other is a lawyer working with the triad. Everybody in this one leaves you feeling uneasy with everyone out for themselves and their own agenda. Now this one is truly visceral from beginning to end.
In the second, Rainy Dog is a story about a hit man. No longer able to work for the Yakuza and cut off from his family, he lives a solitary life making only a little performing assassinations. One day, the bleak monotony of his life is disrupted when a woman shows up with his child that she has bore. At first they don’t really know how to interact with one another, but slowly learn how to be an awkward family together. This film has significantly lighter tone and happier moments than the other two in the set. I also found Sho Aikawa’s Yuji the most interesting lead character to follow in the trilogy with an arc of change and personal development built into the story.
In the final movie, Ley Lines, we follow three men as they move from their small village beginnings to the big city. In order to make it through some setbacks, they find themselves right in the middle of drug crime and mixed up with the Triad. They must work together to get through the setbacks so that they can make it out of town and to safety. This time around, we are focused on the relationship between their three men and a prostitute that eventually befriends them.
These three movies are overall very different despite sharing common themes and an underlying crime drama in each one. The first is easily the darkest and most unforgiving while the second is by far the lightest of the trilogy. But each one is pretty fascinating in its own way. While they all work differently and are pretty diverse in how much I enjoyed each one, they were all well worth the watch.
And they are all made rather well with a great visual style. All throughout Rainy Dog, shots hang on Yuji to not only bleed style, but to show his gradual internal change from the unfeeling hitman to the child’s father. In Ley Lines, we have quiet moments as the ensemble begins to grow together. These films are packed with these stylistic moments that work on deeper levels. I’m convinced that I could go back and watch Rainy Dog without audio and enjoy the story just from how the shots are composed. It is no surprise to me that Miike has proven himself to be as prolific as he has over his career.
Image Quality: 3/5
The Black Society Trilogy comes with a perfectly fine transfer. The issue really is just the original source material from the 80s. There is a lot of grain as expected, but it is as well managed as could be expected. The colors can be dull and drab at times. The low light scenes can certainly feel muddied. But at the same time, everything is as sharp and clean as I could imagine this ever looking.
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
The Black Society Trilogy features an LPCM 2.0 Japanese Stereo track for all three films. Dialog is intelligible all throughout and clarity of effects is pretty solid. Most effects also have decent strength and touch. The score sounds very clean without distortion as well. Overall the track is pretty good.
Packaging and Special Features: 4/5
Trailer for Ley Lines
Trailer for Shinjuku Triad Society
Into The Black: Interview with Miike. Miike goes into his history on getting into and growing in the business as well as why he got into filmmaking.
Stray Dog, Lone Wolf: Sho Aikawa is interviewed in this piece. Aikawa discusses his acting history as well as his history with Miike. Aikawa even gives his two cents on the Black Society Trilogy itself.
Commentary: Each film features a commentary from Tom Mes. Tom Mes is an expert on Miike and Japanese cinema. He also authored the Miike focused Agitator. The commentary while dry does show off his knowledge and love for Miike and his work. Watching the films with the commentary does offer a lot of insight into them despite drowning out the dialog. As such, they are best watched when you have recently watched them or have grown to know them well.
I do feel like the special feature content is a bit light for three movies. The commentaries are great, but I expected a bit more in the way of video interviews and the like. Despite that, what is included is quite good. The commentaries themselves are very in depth and it is clear that Tom Mes is a fan and deeply understands what Miike is saying in these films.
Now on the other hand, the packaging is very well done. Arrow has provided a two-disc case with nice artwork on both sides of the reversible sleeve. Additionally, they’ve included a slipcover. For the first pressing, they’ve provided an Arrow typical booklet with writing on the Black Society Trilogy.
This is a pretty solid collection for the three films of the Black Society Trilogy. Not everyone will love them, but I think they have are worth being seen for any film fan. There are so many moments through these movies that you will feel like you’ve seen them in some way or another. This is evidence of Miike’s influence on cinema at large. I’m sure many out there will enjoy the first entry far more than I did and many who probably enjoy the second less. Either way, there is something in here for most fans of Asian cinema and people concerned with cinema as a whole. There is enough content in the special features to add context as well.
I strongly recommend this for a watch for any cinema fan. Additionally, I just as strongly recommend a purchase for Asian cinema fans or those who are interested in the history of cinema. You can pick it up here.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.