Takashi Miike's gangster epic AGITATOR features an extremely convoluted plot, which revolves around the manipulation and double-deal-making of yakuza organisations in Tokyo. Despite being wide in scope, it is an extremely difficult picture to digest, and will require at least a couple of viewings for viewers to piece together the various narrative threads and fully understand what's going on.
Yakuza boss Kaito seeks to merge his family with the rival Shirane and Yokomizo organisations, as this will allow him to be promoted into the ranks of the all-powerful Tenseiki gang. He meets with Shirane's lackey, Mizushima, and persuades him to join. As a reward Kaito promises to make Mizushima the head of the Shirane family - at the expense of Mr Shirane himself, who will be killed!
Mizushima cooperates, but initiates his own plan to freeze out the hated Yokomiza clan. He pays one of his men to cause trouble in a Yokomiza nightclub, to make it appear that they are being hostile and uncooperative to the proposed merger. Shinozaki promptly abuses a young woman by raping her with a microphone. Everything follows as planned, as the expendable hood is executed by Yokomiza's men.
Higuchi is the leader of his own gang, in fact a subdivision Yokomiza's. He shoulders the blame for Shinozaki's death, and the suspicious Mr Yokomiza tells him to find out what the Shirane are up to. Yokomiza is soon gunned down by a Shirane assassin, and Higuchi's second in command - the hot-headed Kenzaki - seeks revenge.
Events soon spiral out of control. While the whole of the original Yokomiza group decide to join Mr Kaito, Higuchi and his previously loyal gang split from them and refuse. The Higuchi group soon find themselves up against the powerful merger of the Kaito, Yokomiza and Shirane gangs. Higuchi is soon murdered, however, and his men join the ever expanding group belonging to Mr Kaito. Eventually Kenzaki is alone, and seeks to destroy all of the families for their betrayal…
Many viewers will find themselves confused by the chaotic, scattershot narrative, but this is the whole point of the film. AGITATOR juggles several plot strands, often jumping unexpectedly from one sequence straight into the middle of the next. Viewers are overloaded with information, and their activity is required in order to piece together the relevant story information. Miike's film fittingly expresses the outright chaos of Yakuza life by involving the viewer in this self same confusion.
An overlooked aspect of the narrative is that the story actually simplifies and strips itself down the further it goes. The film begins with manipulation and bickering within the ranks of the Shirane and the Yokomiza, as well as between the two groups. But as the gangs are all swallowed up by Kitain, we are finally left with a singe point of identification. In the final half hour AGITATOR becomes a simple tale of revenge, as Kenzaki seeks to destroy all of the families for conspiring to kill his master Higuchi.
The film details an interesting irony in its characterisations. The younger men are typically loyal, honest, and possess integrity; whereas the older men are prone to back-stabbing, manipulation and general opportunism. While Kenzaki and others are distressed at the deaths of their masters and seek revenge, the seniors are eager to trade allegiances at the drop of a hat. The younger men, therefore, are the anachronisms - idealistic and romantic in cynical times - while the old codgers are the only men who attempt to adapt to the times.
The normally reliable Tartan display the film in a disappointing transfer. Despite being presented in anamorphic widescreen, colours are faded and the detail is fuzzy and lacking.
Review by Matthew Sanderson
|Released by Tartan|
|Region All PAL|
|Extras : 4-page booklet with Chris Campion film notes, Original Trailer, Asia Extreme Trailer Reel|