Dignity is demolished and pipe dreams are dashed in “Roadside Fugitive,” a redundant third installment in Yu Irie’s “8000 Miles” series. The helmer-scribe has been a trenchant chronicler of Japan’s loser culture through his portrayal of the struggling suburban hip-hop scene, but his creativity has reached a cul-de-sac here. Echoing the same sentiments as its predecessor, except with more bitterness and no humor, the pic offers little more than a stale desperado yarn spiked with mildly thought-provoking rap numbers. Following its Hong Kong fest preem, “Fugitive” could hitch a ride to Japan-themed fests, but won’t achieve runaway B.O. success.
An opening flashback recounts how the series’ central figures, Ikku (Ryusuke Komakine), Tom (Shingo Mizusawa) and Mighty (Eita Okuno), formed the rap group Sho-gung in their hometown of Fukuya, Saitama prefecture. The story picks up two years after the group disbanded. Mighty has left behind his broccoli farm and moved to Tokyo in search of new opportunities; he tags along with hit hip-hop group Gokuakucho (which roughly translates as “mean bastards”), but management robs him of his long-awaited chance to move up to the finals of a big rap contest.
Mighty relocates with his g.f., Kazumi (Megumi Saito), to Tochigi, a prefecture that resembles Saitama in its geographic distance from Tokyo as well as in its dreary, provincial character. Sadly, Mighty’s rekindled musical passion does not prevent him from running afoul of the yakuza, and his rashness leads to a rumble that coincides with a local open-air hip-hop event where Ikku and Tom try make a comeback.
While the series’ title acknowledges its debt to Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile,” Irie’s depiction of Saitama captures the particulars of a complacent, painfully unhip Japanese provincial backwater stranded on the periphery of Tokyo’s commuter belt, lending authenticity to his protags’ frustrations. “Fugitive,” however, narrows its purview to the shadiness of the hip-hop scene. Tokyo and Tochigi are portrayed without any sense of place; Tochigi in particular, despite being the backdrop for the pic’s most climactic moments, leaves such a colorless impression, it’s as if everyone is just passing through it.
Irie’s goofy, misfit protags are finely drawn characters who amuse and endear themselves to auds partly because of the deadpan irony with which they deny or prove oblivious to their mediocrity. Their failure to realize their dreams, or even to hold down a proper job, comes to stand for the punctured ambitions of Japan’s so-called Neet (Not in Education, Employment or Training) generation. In “Fugitive,” two of the key players have been shoved aside, and so has the femme group from “8000 Miles 2: Girl Rappers,” which has sunk into oblivion. The focus is solely on Mighty’s fate, but even his escalating anger and violent tendencies do not achieve much complexity or emotional heft, as his degradation and inevitable slide into petty crime resemble the doomed trajectories of so many country boys trying their luck in the big city.
The pic’s desolate mood is deepened by the prevalence of harshly lit nocturnal scenes, lensed on HD by Kazuhiro Mimura in a plain, handheld style matched by stark, washed-out tones. Taisei Iwasaki’s score boasts a surfeit of rapping that might sound monotonous to non-fans; rap lyrics by Hakushu and Takahiro Kamisuzuki articulate social protest and personal sentiments clumsily, and could prove tiring for subtitle-reading auds.