A promisingly atmospheric premise — a rough thug’s younger brother is almost an incarnation of the Buddha — quickly escalates into sheer bathos as routine gangland violence takes over. First-time pic maker Jinsei Tsuji’s rep as a popular Japanese musician may create buzz, but this will get drowned out by laughter at “Hotoke’s” increasingly ridiculous plot mechanics. Soundtrack here is minimal, despite Sony Music’s imprimatur.
Round-faced Shinji Takeda is appealing as Rai, sweetly stoical sibling to Shiba (Ryuichi Oura), a mean bastard who runs an abalone-poaching business in the lads’ well-lensed seaside town. Rai (nicknamed Hotoke, a variation on Buddha) collects scrap iron for a religious statue, and he’s famous for turning the other cheek. But his piety is tested by the way Shiba treats a blind masseuse (the one-named Yuma, who also sings title song) madly in love with the rat. Rai himself, you see, has a bad jones for her. There are also problems with a rival gang, and many, many people die or lose body parts, usually from samurai swords. But even before the masseuse murders her own parents for no apparent reason, most viewers will be crying “abalone!”