Every month or two, it seems, I write about a Japanese movie about which I say there is nothing else quite like it. The uniqueness of Boiling Point, however, is utterly indescribable in print. Its story is simple and straightforward: A sad sack youth accidentally crosses the local yakuza, a former yakuza member tries to help him and is severely beaten for his troubles, the youth gets a gun and tries to take his own revenge, which ends with the death of his friends and himself. Few story lines are easier to work out or more predictable. But this is a Takeshi Kitano film in which his deadpan approach is taken to the extreme and then past it.
We can start with the title – 3-4 October. It is just possible that the events occur in October, though certainly not in only two days, and that is assuming the events occur at all, given the ending.
Then there is the fact that we have absolutely no idea how old the youth is.
Masaki is the tenth man on an amateur baseball team that never wins a game. He works at a garage where his primary job is washing cars after they have been worked on. He is obviously out of school, but how long? Practically everyone he meets asks if he has gotten laid yet,* but with his hangdog face and attitude, he could be anywhere from 17 to 35. The same could be said for his best friend Kazuo, who accompanies him to Okinawa. They have to go to Okinawa because that’s where the Americans are, and, ipso facto, that’s where the guns are, but we see no actual Americans except the gun dealer.
Kitano himself doesn’t even appear until almost 50 minutes into the movie, and then is dispatched forty minutes later, 15 minutes before the ending. In that time, he goes through his own yakuza movie; ordered to return money he owes, along with a finger, he searches out an automatic rifle, shoots the gun dealer, and wipes out all the head men of the gang, then is himself shot down in the airport parking lot. In between, he attaches himself and his own buddy Takuya to the two boys after making a pass at Masaki in a bar. They end up with him in a room where he orders Takuya to cut off his finger and screw the girl he has brought from the bar, then halfway through throws Takuya off of her and rapes the man instead of the girl. Then they are happily playing baseball on the beach, along with the black hostess they also brought from the bar, who has sat motionless and wordless through all the previous scenes, until he suddenly starts repeatedly throwing the ball at his girl. He is a man of explosive anger, but without ever showing any sign of anger – beating his girl, beating his friend, shooting the American who sells them the guns, wiping out his bosses, and then raping the maid among the bodies, all without the least expression or warning.
Kitano’s bi-sexuality is striking for the date, at least in American films. Yet it is completely unsympathetic – all sex for him, whether with female or with male, is a form of rape, and he never seems to actually enjoy it. While Masaki seems to be a nice guy, nothing he says gives us any insight into his personality or character. It is only because we see him demeaned by even his friends and fail at so many things that we have any kind of audience connection with him.
To say that Kitano’s performance is deadpan is no surprise to anyone who has seen his other movies. But the whole movie is deadpan. It is deadpan violence rather than deadpan humor. And yet it is often very funny. The most pleasant scenes can stop being so in a split second, as in the beach baseball game that turns into attacks on Kitano’s girlfriend, and the serious scenes can turn suddenly funny, and then snap back again. It is extremely bloody, from bloody noses and motorcycle accidents to Kitano’s blood-soaked body. No motivations are given but have to be filled in by us in the audience – this happens, and then this happens, and we have to think back to provide our own reasoning, because we have been given no real motivation or preparation.
Masaki too seems to have no expression. It seems as if a quarter of the movie at least consists of characters looking straight into the camera without expression, and usually without dialogue, reacting without visible reaction. There are a handful of typically bullying yakuza, but the bosses themselves sit as if waiting for a formal portrait to be taken. There is no musical score to help us define the tone. The camera is mostly flat and head-on; Takeshi even fires his automatic rifle directly into the camera.
Much of the tone of the movie has to do with the editing, credited to Toshio Taniguchi. He has no other movies that look like this in a long career dating back to late Raizo Ichikawa movies, so obviously there was a great deal of input from Kitano, who also wrote the screenplay. There are no transition scenes, no set ups. We are here, then in an instant we are someplace else. Masaki sits in a cafe, and the next moment has the waitress on his motorcycle. She says hardly a word the rest of the movie, so we have no idea how serious the relationship has become or why. Most of the time we see reactions (or lack of reactions) rather than actions, most notably the expressionless faces of Masaki and Kazuo as they watch the execution of Kitano that they can not hear through the airport glass doors.
As a movie, it is an utterly unique experience.
** Many of the same cast would reappear in Kitano’s later Getting Any?