Wild Life – Review

dvd-wildlife200Wild Life

with Mickey Curtis, Akiko Izumi, Jun Kunimura
Directed by Shinji Aoyama
by Chad Van Wagner

Talk about your frustration… Shinji Aoyama’s Wild Life revolves around Hiroki (Kosuke Toyohara) a retired boxer who seems kind of, uh, slow. Turns out he’s just not particularly excitable (or emotional), and when his boss’ daughter decides to pursue him, it’s just the beginning of the weirdness his stoic façade will be subjected to over the course of the film.

That sounds generic, and the skeleton of the plot certainly is: Normal nice guy gets tangled up in gangster intrigue. Thing is, Aoyama isn’t afraid of feeding you weirdness in unassuming ways, so the viewer is in a constant state of being unable to decide if they’re being led somewhere, or just being fed a line of bullshit. Before things come to a head, Hiroki’s had to deal with his boss’ kidnapping, a gangster (Jun Kunimura, the guy who Lucy Liu decapitated in the first Kill Bill) who can’t decide whether Hiroki’s his hero or his nemesis, a gay police detective with a thing for boxers, and a jealous wannabe boyfriend who wants to be a veterinarian. This sounds madcap, but it isn’t. It’s much closer to the flat, deadpan, smart-ass inertia of films like Withnail and I or Straight To Hell. Thing is, Wild Life doesn’t have the cultural underpinnings that made those two films strike a nerve with the Western cult audience, so it’s questionable whether or not this will mean anything to the casual Japanese film buff.

All of which is an overly elaborate way of saying that it’s not for everyone. Aoyama has shown himself to be enormously talented, but not particularly accessible. The only real visceral kick in what is theoretically an action/comedy occurs when Hiroki decides, stone-faced, that he’s had enough, and flattens everything in sight without breaking a sweat. The dizzying paradox of a guy who acts like a human doormat pulverizing everything in sight (without seeming too concerned about it) at the drop of a hat is jarring, and damned entertaining. But those moments are few and far between, and the film instead relies on the context of a guy living in semi-normalcy in Japan. Yeah, I got it, but I live here. If you don’t, Wild Life might lose a lot in translation.