[Raindance ’15] Slum Polis

In the wake of the Tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, there has been a movement of directors – both high and low profile – who have used that catastrophe to open up a cinematic discourse; one of the more successful examples is Sono’s Land of Hope. Sono formed one end of that conversation at the other is Ken Ninomiya’s Slum Polis, a low-budget indie shown as part Raindance 2015’s ‘Way out East’ Strand. As described in an opening bout of exposition, the Japan in Ninomiya’s picture has been hit by a similar earthquake instigating an economic crisis alleviated by carving up the country analogously to Carpenter’s Escape from New York – the result being Slum Polis.

The quarantined Slum Polis is a state fuelled by anarchy, drugs, prostitution and gang warfare. Calling that home are Asu (Hidenobu Abera) and Joe (Horyu Nishimura), both around university age but in these slums fate has turned them into hitmen, killers responsible for a hit on a drug kingpin with overwhelming ramifications. The drug market is blown wide open and for the briefest of times Asu and Joe enjoy a respite that brings a little glamour to their corner of the world in Anna (Ryoko Ono). This allows them the rare chance to dream; Asu wants his music to be played by DJ Taku on the local pirate radio station and Anna the escape from prostitution that comes in painting. In a world that seems content rushing to oblivion the trio’s existence is one of bliss until the horrible, violent realities of Slum Polis come a knocking.

Despite being tied to the most quintessentially Japanese of issues, Slum Polis doesn’t feel at all Japanese. Using industrial wastelands as stand in for the isolated titular town, adoptive location scouting that recalls characteristics of John Carpenter and George Miller’s filmography, the only Japanese trait is the nationality and language spoken by the cast. The personality of Slum Polis is an odd one and nothing articulates this better than its use of music.

slumpolis1As aforementioned, Joe, Asu and Anna use art as an escape, a point that is expressed through dream-pop scored montages edited alike music videos. These instances stop the movie dead in its tracks, perhaps, but Ninomiya is explicit in communicating the resonance of that Earthquake and Tsunami with a culturally universal media form without narrowing the films gaze solely on Japan. Be that as it may, stopping the movie as it does becomes exacerbating after the 4th or 5th instance.

The machine gun editing employed in those musical montages reoccurs in certain flurries of violence, the first hour is punctuated by erratic out of blue violence enacted by inexperienced kid’s victim to their circumstances. The second hour is much more controlled with the repercussions of Joe and Asu’s actions unleashing the unforgiving brutality of Slum Polis’ powerhouse Yakuza family. That contrast between worlds sees the young director at his best; recognition also deserves to be bestowed on DOP Shota Yamamoto. Budgets can be especially cruel on films with such admirable ambition; comparable works are only credible when significant work has been put into the world building. With such bold ideas at play they budget couldn’t possibly cover what Ninomiya wants to achieve, therefore Yamamoto’s work behind the camera becomes indispensable for he finds the cruelty in the beauty and vice versa, developing a striking visual palette masking restraints.

Raindance is one of the bright stars of the British festival circuit as it shines a light on the talent climbing their way up the ladder, by that very definition there are an awful lot of raw films on their slate. Slum Polis is very much a Raindance film: the acting leaves a great deal to be desired and the storytelling nous takes a nose dive at the hour point climaxing on a beat of heightened and uncharacteristic garish melodrama. And the scene with a drunk Asu stripping naked after a drinking session and complaining about the cold, one can only assume its meant as comedy. However, the raw talent and ambition shown in Slum Polis are laudable, director Ninomiya shows an eye for repackaging issues under genre sensibilities, a keen and rare style in cinema found in the boldly alternative sensibilities of Osaka. Slum Polis is pointing to a bright future.

Slum Polis played as part of the Third Window Films curated 2015 Raindance Festivals Way Out East Strand

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