I didn’t know what to expect when I rented Takashi Miike’s Big Bang Love: Juvenile A. This is the same man that brought us both Ichi the Killer and The Happiness of the Katakuris (its own post another day), which is a delightful exercise in what-the-fuck-did-I-just-watch. I’m used to gore from this director; I’m also used to a type of dark fairy tale coming from him. He chose to go just as surreal with this one, but managed to provide a departure: the story of two young men navigating the prison system, with strong hints of attraction and love amidst a backdrop of spiritual journey. The effect was profoundly moving, due in equal parts to the performances of Ryuhei Matsuda and Masanobu Ando as well as the deft direction of Takashi Miike. So, as the day ends in “y”, I’m going to throw an interpretation out there that is going to seem weird: I think that the characters Ariyoshi Jun (Matsuda) and Kazuki Shiro (Ando) were actually representations of the same person undergoing a type of vision quest to forge a stronger, more spiritual being in childhood.
|This was incredibly moving.
Bear with me for a moment while I piece this one together, as it’s not linear. The story starts with a notion of time, which is significant because it sets the stage for the jumps back and forth from childhood to adulthood. The film starts out in the segment “The Tropics,” with its bold red background. This is where my Spidey sense started to tingle – red figures into the Tibetan Book of the Dead as both the symbol of feeling as well as wisdom. The boy is asked what kind of man he wants to be; he is told to meet someone on the beach at sunset in order to undergo a ritual to make him into a strong man (hi there, water as the symbolism of rebirth). We’re then introduced to a tattooed man in a red, ripped ceremonial skirt, and then are immediately presented with the explanation by the old man that the boy will encounter the man’s “manhood forced to your throat” as the explanation that this is how men are born. A little rapey, but let’s bypass that for a second. From here, we jump ahead to prison, with the death of Kazuki supposedly at the hands of Ariyoshi. From here, we piece together Ariyoshi and Kazuki’s love story as the murder mystery unfolds; interspersed throughout are the pieces of their spiritual journey – one a staunch believer in science (hello there, rocket ship) while the other believes in heaven and salvation (greetings, pyramid). Still with me? Good. We’re about to go a little bonkers.
Here’s where I think they’re the same person: Ariyoshi and Kazuki have an inexplicable bond that boarders on intense love, and both compliment each other in such a fashion that their extremes make for two halves of the same whole. Starting first with the crimes: Ariyoshi killed his rapist, then proceeded to mutilate the body beyond all recognition for hours on end; Kazuki, meanwhile, raped a woman that resulted in her suicide, then was jailed again for beating a man to death in the streets. Yet once they get to prison, it is the blood-soaked Ariyoshi that is silent to the point of being called effeminate, and relatively white-clad Kazuki who is both defensive of Ariyoshi and dislikes being bossed around by others. That one committed an act of sheer rage while the other performed his based upon a type of boredom and rebellion screamed that they were extremes and therefore not fully developed on their own. By the way, notice how their outfits seemed to be opposites of each other? Same colors, but one in mostly red while the other was in mostly white. I don’t think that was an accident, much like how Kazuki had the same tattoos as the dancing man from the Tropics section. So, we have parallels and connections already. From there, the boys are paired in living quarters, with Kazuki errupting into an outburst in order to earn solitary confinement – this backfires, as he’s kept in with the general population. Even though he and Ariyoshi are sent to different work assignments, the point is that they are together in order to function effectively in the prison system. Kazuki looks out for Ariyoshi, while Ariyoshi gets Kazuki to open up.
|They even start out as near-mirror images.
The opening up is the second part of my hypothesis, as it pertains to their discussions of spirituality. The boys retreat to the fenced-in yard, where they watch a rocket ship and discuss the existence of heaven. They view the pyramid as a way to get to heaven, and the rocket ship as a way to reach outer space (a place Kazuki describes as somewhere to escape other people); in essence, they are struggling to find the path of the heart/mind versus the path of science, and which one makes sense to the soul. That they rely on each other for this conversation is telling: Ariyoshi is curious as to Kazuki’s answer, while Kazuki seems obsessed with total solitude. That Ariyoshi sees the sunlight on his chest and gushes blood while being asked, “What kind of man do you want to be?” seems interesting, because Kazuki is not asked the same question; instead, his path is more set in stone, and he is allowed to sleep while this is happening to Ariyoshi. In the end, however, Kazuki chooses death and something outside of the rocket ship: the triple rainbow. Rainbows in Japanese spirituality are connected to a creation story stemming from a male and female being traveling to earth via a bridge to create the world from chaos; this bridge was the rainbow. That he sees a rare triple rainbow not only signifies death and rebirth, but a third, mysterious journey.
This is where it all ties back in for me: in the end, Kazuki chooses to die and instigates his own demise, and is thereby absorbed to become something he already was: Ariyoshi. We don’t get backstory from Ariyoshi other than the fact that he brutally murdered his attacker; we do get backstory on Kazuki, who used to steal jam-filled bread as a sexually abused child. In the end, this same child version of Kazuki is in the prison cell, watching the butterfly and rocket. Kazuki is instructed by the soul of the Warden’s dead wife to “not grieve for her. Forget everything. Start a new life.” His death allows him to move beyond the troubled childhood and adulthood to ascend into something else, leaving behind the angry, combative persona who cries in the confusion of witnessing the bridge between heaven and earth. What’s left is the more quiet aspect of Ariyoshi, capable of extreme violence but also of quiet acceptance of the world around him. Ariyoshi asks, “Will we ever meet again?” as the butterfly – the symbol of the soul’s journey – is electrocuted. It is this version of the self that returns to being a child at the beginning of the film with the red background, the symbol of feeling and wisdom.
The old man declares to the young boy that he sees a whale: “a whale that’s lived for countless years, the master of the ocean, now returning to heaven” before commanding him to “become an outstanding man.” Meanwhile, the child version of Kazuki remains in the prison cell, viewing his rainbows. As the soul does not exist inside of time in many philosophies/religions, the fluidity of moving back and forth between childhood and adulthood is palpable, with the whale as a type of vessel for the journey. The seed of violence is contained within the bars of the psychic prison while life goes on outside. The journey has completed. Ariyoshi can now grow up with the knowledge that this piece of himself has lived and died so that he
can become an outstanding man.
can become an outstanding man.
|Go be an outstanding man, kid.
I may be dead wrong on this one; it’s been known to happen, and I accept very well that I could be wrong. This is what I took from it. It was moving, it was visually stunning, it was well-acted (sidenote: holy shit is Ando is an effective crier). Miike did it again.