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Helpless

A small-scale riff on the existential yakuza genre, "Helpless" doesn't go anyplace much, but shows first-timer Shinji Aoyama as a young director who knows what he wants. This is primarily festival fare, with offshore tube sales a possibility.

With:
With: Tadanobu Asano, Ken Mitsuishi, Kaori Tsuji, Yoichiro Saito, Toshiya Nagasawa, Hiroko Isayama, Taro Suwa.

A small-scale riff on the existential yakuza genre, “Helpless” doesn’t go anyplace much, but shows first-timer Shinji Aoyama as a young director who knows what he wants. This is primarily festival fare, with offshore tube sales a possibility.

Kenji is that familiar construct of young Asian cinema, an introverted, bored youth with nothing on his mind and time to spare. Meeting Yasuo, a disaffected yakuza, in a roadside diner, he’s left with a mysterious bag and the mobster’s lame, retarded sister, Yuri, after Yasuo wastes a colleague and sets off on a suicidal killing spree.

Kenji waits with Yuri at another eatery, where he’s joined by a former classmate, Akihiko. Provoked by the owners, and hearing that his sick father has hanged himself in the hospital, Kenji finally lets his suppressed rage spill out.

Film’s main claim to originality is in its very managed soundtrack, which switches from normality to periods of silence from which only selected sounds emerge. Effect is an unsettling stillness, which adds a measure of tension to a story in which little of consequence happens. Pic is too slim to win over audiences already bored by listless youths and people blowing away other people, but there’s a germ of a talent at work here.

Technical credits are pro, performances standard.

Helpless

Japanese

Production: A Wowow/Japan Satellite Broadcasting production. (International sales: Bitters End, Tokyo.) Produced by Takenori Sento, Koji Kobayashi. Directed, written by Shinji Aoyama.

Crew: Camera (color), Masaki Tamura; editor, Shuichi Kakesu; music, Isao Yamada, Aoyama; production design, Toshihiro Isomi; sound, Osamu Takizawa. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 11, 1996. (Also in Turin fest --- competing.) Running time: 79 MIN.

With: With: Tadanobu Asano, Ken Mitsuishi, Kaori Tsuji, Yoichiro Saito, Toshiya Nagasawa, Hiroko Isayama, Taro Suwa.

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