Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl is everything a modern Japanese gangster flick should be: it's ultra-cool, ultra-stylish, with over-the-top characters and unconventional direction. The plot takes all the right turns to keep the viewer guessing, and it's not until the final scene is played out that the entire story comes together into a cohesive whole.
Sharkskin Man stars Tadanobu Asano; he also played the unforgettable Kakihara in Ichi the Killer, and this role is similar to the other in various respects: he's sleek, attractive, cool, and dangerous. Here he plays a Yakuza member who steals a large sum of money from the gang and goes on the run, eventually teaming up with the young woman, Toshiko. Of course, gangsters being gangsters, they send out a group of hitmen after the pair.
One good quality that Japanese films have but which American films usually lack is the willingness to go out on a limb regarding characterization. I hate to use the word 'cartoony' but in many cases this is an apt term: a lot of the unforgettable second- (and even first-) tier characters from Japanese genre movies look and act like they may have stepped right out of a comic book. (This is no great revelation, since so many Japanese films and television shows get their material from comic books, which in that nation are read by a huge percentage of the public.)
Sharkskin Man is no exception; the array of villains lined up to hunt down our protagonists is fascinatingly varied. The leather-clad, vintage poster-collecting assassin who wields throwing knives (played by Ittoku Kishibe) is the leader, and probably the oddest, of the group of killers; next is the boss's son (Shingo Tsurumi), who can sniff out his quarry in the woods but refuses to cross a creek to catch them because it will get his designer white leather outfit wet ("I'm a kid with pubic hair," he confesses at one point).
In some ways Sharkskin Man is a typical modern Yakuza film, with the heroes on the run and several twists and turns in the plot. The difference is that this is directed by Ishii Katsuhito, who used all his talents to make the film as stylish, and as fun, as possible. This movie is practically eaten up with style: at one point the protagonists (who happen to be a very attractive young couple) exchange their street clothes for garishly fashionable duds, and show them off before exploding flashbulbs. And this movie has one of the best title sequences ever: a loud, fast rock song plays over the consciously-contrived backdrop of a professional photo shoot, as each character poses briefly, in many cases providing a shorthand introduction to what their roles will be within the film itself.
Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl - 1998
Direction: Katsuhito Ishii
Screenplay: Katsuhito Ishii
Featuring: Tadanobu Asano, Sie Kohinata, Shingo Tsurumi, Ittoku Kishibe