Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) by Takashi Miike

"Shinjuku Triad Society" established Miike as a master director, ensuring his reputation as one of the most exciting talents of the Japanese film industry

by Matt Cooper

Takeshi Miike's “Black Society Trilogy” marked his transition from making direct-to-video films to theatrical releases and made him one of the most well-known directors of exploitation cinema. The first of these three films, “Shinjuku Triad Society” (1995), offers a visceral look at the Japanese underworld, and establishes Miike's trademark style of black humor and extreme violence.

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The Dragon's Claw crime family, led by Boss Wang (Tomorowo Taguchi) are causing trouble in Tokyo. Tatsuhito Kiriya (Kippei Shiina)
, a police detective of Chinese descent is in charge of the investigation into the group, though his task becomes complicated when he learns that his brother is working for Wang as a lawyer.

He discovers that the Dragon's Claw are involved in organ trafficking, selling organs to desperate parents in Japan. As his investigation progresses, Kiriya travels to Taiwan, where he learns about Wang's past. He discovers that Wang has funded a hospital, which he uses as a front for his organ harvesting operation.

We are also introduced to several peripheral characters, such as Wang's lover Zhou, Yoshihito Karino (Takeshi Caesar), the former right hand of Uchida, who is the leader of the local Yakuza  and Ritsuko, a young woman involved with the Dragon's Claw gang, as well as the Yamane family, a rival criminal faction. The screenplay by Ichirô Fujita does a great job in bringing together a large number of complex relationships, while keeping things simple enough that you do not get lost in the details.


Takashi Miike gives us a visually interesting film with many quirks that mark this out as the vision of a truly unique film-maker. The opening scenes of the movie inter-cut a murder scene, flashback shots of a young child crying, a busy nightclub, and the bustle of Tokyo, fully immersing us in this world. Within the first five minutes, we have witnessed a severed head, a homosexual fellatio scene, and arterial blood spattering from the wrist of a wounded policeman. It is clear from this opening that this will be unlike other films. Despite its lurid use of violence, sex and homosexuality, the true heart of the film is actually the character of Kiriya, whose personal quest to save his brother from the world he is involved in and his vendetta against Wang is truly heart-breaking.

The dialogue is in Japanese and Chinese, further highlighting the theme of the difficulty
immigrants face in adapting to and being accepted by their new society. The two brothers have both chosen different paths, one embracing his new society, becoming a part of the establishment, the other rejecting it and working for the oppressed immigrant community of the gang. These communities are often ignored in society and face a great deal of discrimination. The film does not attempt to sugar-coat their criminality or excuse their actions. It simply offers us a realistic look at their circumstances and asks the audience to judge for themselves what is right and wrong in society.

Kippei Shiida gives an amazing performance as the police detective struggling with his own family as well as working to bring down a gang and their despicable organ harvesting operation. He is not portrayed as an entirely likable character, clearly operating outside the law at a number of moments, but you can feel his suffering at what he feels is the loss of his brother and his struggle to remain on the side of his adopted society. Tomorowo Taguchi, known for his role in “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” (1989) is fantastically cruel as Wang, the perverted, amoral, gang leader. He is intimidating with his cold stare and boundless confidence. Especially memorable is the way he flashes people, displaying his complete disregard for the norms of society. The supporting cast also do a great job. Particularly, Eri Yu who plays Ritsuko, whose performance captures the films sense of unpredictability and irreverence as we witness her erratic behavior, driven by both lust and aggression.


This film really brings Tokyo to life and shows a side of the city that is not seen in many movies. We take a look behind the glowing neon and gaudy shop fronts to see the dirty, derelict areas of Kabukicho, backstreets where gangsters and prostitutes congregate. Every scene is full of background details that not only serve to make every scene entirely real, but keep your eyes occupied, as you try to take everything in. Cinematographer Naosuke Imaizumi lights the indoor scenes beautifully, utilizing the light and shadow to give the sense of the murky life of criminals being portrayed. The direction shows endless creativity in angles and shot choice keeping the film alive and making even conversations as exciting as action sequences. The music by Atorie Shira is intended to be felt rather than heard, underscoring the films tension and emotional moments with subtle hints of strings, or rhythmic drums

"Shinjuku Triad Society" is a film that deals with gritty themes of crime and exploitation in a thrilling way.


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Asian Film Vault: Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) by Takashi Miike
Shinjuku Triad Society (1995) by Takashi Miike
"Shinjuku Triad Society" established Miike as a master director, ensuring his reputation as one of the most exciting talents of the Japanese film industry
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