Made in 1995 (with the English title “Trouble With Nango”) but only now receiving its international market preem, “Trouble-Shooters” is a flawed but fascinating offbeat crime drama that’s helmer Masato Harada’s stylistic connection between his two very different cult movies — the epic-length “Kamikaze Taxi” (1994) and his impressive recent return to form, “Bounce Ko Gals” (1997, aka “Leaving”). A genuine maverick who doesn’t fall prey to the usual excesses of the Japanese indie scene, Harada, 50, whose multifaceted career has taken him from Tokyo to London and L.A., is ripe for fest retrospectives, into which “Trouble-Shooters” would fit nicely.
Central idea — a group sets up an agency to solve other people’s problems — is similar to that of at least two other movies, the ironic Chinese comedy, “Three T Company” (aka “The Trouble-Shooters,” 1990) by Mi Jiashan and “Gulls and Gangsters” (1997) by Hungary’s Peter Bacso. Head trouble-shooter here is Daisuke Nango (Koji Matoba), a former policeman who left the force after an affair with a yakuza’s moll and now goes around promoting his singing career in chintzy dance halls. Nango teams up with his unemployed, somewhat dim uncle (Leo Morimoto) and a young yakuza who’s impressed with Nango’s negotiating skills.
First case for the Trouble-Shooters, as Nango calls the firm, doesn’t go too well. While helping a mother deal with her rebellious, coke-snorting son, Nango almost beats the kid senseless. After this slowish start, meat of the pic surfaces about 40 minutes in, when Nango is hired by a yakuza boss (Tatsumi Nikamoto) to help out his favorite hostess, half-Chinese Koran (Hiroko Fukuda), two of whose girls have recently been raped. The incidents have been traced back to a watering hole frequented by members of the boss’s clan — a development that leads Nango into a tangled web of deceit.
Pic has many of the hallmarks of Harada’s best work: a lopsided feel that slowly takes more proper shape, like a boat being righted in the water; plenty of straight-faced humor; a setting that’s realistically depicted but is full of off-center details; and occasional bursts of violence or the unexpected. Just as “Kamikaze Taxi” looked at the crime world through the minor character of a cabby , and “Bounce Ko Gals” was nothing like you’d expect of a movie dealing with schoolgirl hookers, the present item isn’t just a crime movie — more a portrait of an arrogant, slightly crazy, slick-talking operator who finds that even he can be set up.
Pacing is somewhere between the extremely leisurely “Kamikaze” and the zippy “Bounce,” and takes a while to show its hand, with rather too long spent sketching the relationship between Nango and his uncle. Perfs, however, are on the mark, with Matoba well cast as Nango and Fukuda strong as Koran. Masahiro Kawasaki’s varied, soloistic score stands out among the otherwise unflashy production credits.