Review: ‘Hotoke’

A promisingly 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 pic's ridiculous plot mechanics.

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!”

Hotoke

Japan

Production

A Sony Pictures presentation of a Sony Music, Fuji Television production, in association with KSS Inc., Jinsei Film Syndicate. (International sales: KSS Inc., Tokyo.) Produced by Kenichiro Haraoka, Hirotsugu Usui, Taizo Fukumaki, Hirai Kenichiro, Shin Tirisawa. Executive producer, Hidemi Satani. Directed, written, music by Jinsei Tsuji.

Crew

Camera (color), Takahiro Tsutai; editor, Shuichi Kakesu; production designer, Yohei Taneda; set decoration, Yoshihito Akatsuka; sound design, Yasuo Hashimoto. Reviewed on vidcassette at Seattle Film Festival, June 15, 2001. Running time: 131 MIN.

With

Shinji Takeda, Ryuichi Oura, Yuma, Shouki Jo, Kanji Tsuda, Fujiko, Toshie Negishi, Noriko Sengoku, Hisashi Ikawa.
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