Many film enthusiasts, particularly those interested in Asian cinema, are first exposed to Japanese films through the works of Takashi Miike. Since the early 1990s, he has created a vast number of movies, making it unsurprising that his name is well-known. Popular titles such as “Ichi – The Killer”, “Dead or Alive”, and “Audition” have solidified Miike’s reputation globally and introduced many to his distinctive cinematic style, which has also greatly influenced his fellow filmmakers. However, with over 100 directed films, it is inevitable that some may be considered subpar (such as “Salaryman Kintaro”) or overlooked due to the overshadowing success of Miike’s more famous works. One such example is “Blues Harp”, which not only stands out as a hidden gem in his filmography but is also, in my opinion, one of his finest works.
The tale revolves around Kenji, a member of the yakuza, who faces challenges while trying to establish himself within his clan. Eventually, he is forced to escape from assassins belonging to a rival faction. Along the way, he meets Shuji, a bartender with a Japanese mother and African-American father, who is also an outsider in society. The two develop a strong connection that provides comfort for each other, but also leads to their downfall as their conflict with the rival gang intensifies.
In my opinion, “Blues Harp” showcases a different aspect of Takashi Miike that has existed since the beginning of his career, but is often overlooked. While the theme of being an outsider is evident in many of his works, “Blues Harp” is a somber and violent drama that explores the consequences of feeling alienated. Both Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (playing Shuji) and Seeichi Tanabe (playing Kenji) portray two men from different levels of the criminal world who have struggled to form meaningful connections with their surroundings and the people around them, causing them to be labeled as outcasts. The only discernible difference between them is that one has accepted their situation, while the other fights for acceptance and recognition within the criminal family’s hierarchy.
In terms of appearance, Miike uses a comparable approach to his previous works from the 1990s. The use of a DV-camera emphasizes the sadness and disillusionment felt by the characters, as well as the overall atmosphere of exclusion. Hideo Yamamoto’s cinematography effectively portrays the isolation and yearning of the two main characters, as well as the harshness of their environment, which will inevitably catch up to them. The presence of Kenji’s character further enhances the sense of an inevitable, violent destiny for those who challenge the established hierarchy and try to find their place in this unforgiving world they call home.
“Blues Harp” is a feature highly recommended to those viewers who would like to see a different side to Takashi Miike, and wiling to explore a (sadly) still underappreciated part of his filmography.