Fantastic Fest Review: Bad City

Year: 2022
Runtime:  118 minutes
Director: Kensuke Sonomura
Writer: Hitoshi Ozawa
Cast: Hitoshi Ozawa, Masanori Mimoto, Akane Sakanoue, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Tak Sakaguchi, Lily Franky, Katsuya, Dan Mitsu, Masaya Kato

By Harris Dang

Action maestro Kensuke Sonomura is back once again! Showcasing memorable stuntwork alongside genre norms is his bread and butter and in the case of “Bad City” (2022); Sonomura has made his biggest and quite possibly his best film to date. “Bad City” (2022) is essentially a star vehicle from V-Cinema legend Hitoshi Ozawa; who is best known for being in numerous straight-to-video genre films, his ferocious demeanour and memorable presence. And he has not lost a step in this film.

The film marks as a celebration of his 60th birthday and it is a throwback to the classic Japanese crime thrillers – the ‘80s involving cops, Yakuza, outsider gangs, corruption and a whole lot of ass-kicking. But it is here where Sonomura flexes his directorial chops and delivers his most assured storytelling. After working as action director with numerous acclaimed directors including Mamoru Oshii, Ryuhei Kitamura and John Woo as well as having his own directorial debut “Hydra” (2019) – a mood piece disguised as a crime thriller – Sonomura has both artistic leanings and commercial aspirations on his mind.

In the case of the former, his focus on worldbuilding is admirable as it is immersive for the audience to get into, his efficiency on developing characterizations in the narrative is sharp and his assured pacing of the story is focused enough that the numerous characters and motives never bog down the drama. Our lead cops have a sense of amiable camaraderie that is surprisingly life-affirming and the crime figures are engagingly human as they have believable motives that strive far beyond greed; and Sonomura never lets the audience forget that.

But how does the action fare, does one ask? The fight choreography forgoes the sense of graceful elegance that resembles dance and aims for an animalistic sense of movement; having the fights to appear scrappy, swift and feral that would fit the nature of the story. There are numerous fight scenes where our heroes battle against vast amounts of gangsters with intimidating melee weaponry like baseball bats and there are fight scenes that are mano-a-mano where the use of jiu-jitsu, judo, boxing, karate and knifework are showcased – all the stunts are performed capably by the actors.

While several of the cast members (including Masanori Mimoto, Tak Sakaguchi, Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) are talented martial artists; they all bring their personable presence and add a lot of fun to the proceedings. Ozawa is charisma incarnate in the lead role as his screentime towers everyone around him. Most surprisingly, he is incredibly spry in his action scenes; even when he is taking on the far more athletic Sakaguchi.

As for the supporting cast, they make the most out their stereotypical roles and make the most out of their stuntwork. Lily Franky, Dan Mitsu, Masaya Kato and Rino Katase all add credibility to their willfully obscure characters. However, the standouts are Katsuya (who brings much-needed heart and poignancy to the story) as the veteran of the police crew and Akane Sakanoue as the rookie of the police crew (who makes a capable audience proxy and brings a sense of naivety that puts the traumas of the crew into perspective).

Overall, “Bad City” (2022) marks a major improvement for filmmaker Kensuke Sonomura; an engaging throwback to the Japanese crime thrillers of yore and a wonderful showcase proving that Hitoshi Ozawa is one of the greats.

“Bad City” (2022) had just screened as part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Click the image above to find out more.

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