Boiling Point

Boiling Point feels like a coming-of-age movie that sidesteps the Yakuza flick. It also feels like a gangster flick with a number of longeurs about a young boy who is secondary to his own story. It rambles, and shifts lazily between horrid violence and comic violence. There’s also some pretty heartwarming friendship stuff.

The boy, Masahiko (Yueri Yanagi), is a softball benchwarmer and a gas station attendant who runs afoul of a local man in the Yakuza, appeals to his softball coach (who used to be in the Yakuza), and gets embroiled in violence and revenge. The film sounds like a taut and serious drama (or a boring retread), but it’s not that linear. It meanders, from comedy to romance to violence, with the soft thread of revenge to make it coherent1.

As pure narrative, the film is a mess. While Masahiko gets a girl and plays softball (screwing up and excelling at the same time), the Yakuza line is dropped. The story isn’t told entirely from his point of view: It moves from his coach to the vile thug (Takeshi Kitano) he buys weapons from, and it follows them for awhile.

The “Beat” Takeshi section points up the weird distance between the viewer and the characters: Masahiko is taciturn, his girlfriend practically mute3. It makes the whole section queasy and uncomfortable.

And that’s the point. The film is a series of riffs on masculinity — the strict narrative purpose doesn’t matter (which the end makes clear). Masahiko is too old to live an empty life, and the film plays out his need for growth and expansion. He makes choices, which lead to strange and semi-disastrous results. The end is an affirmation of love and friendship. Uehara’s self-indulgent hypermasculinity becomes a literal dead-end, and Masahiko finds his slightly higher value of finding partners in revenge to be on top. Though it’s flawed, Boiling Point succeeds because this conflict of value systems is not overt. It’s clear, and thematically, the meandering style of the narrative helps. It’s a step up from Violent Cop.

1It’s a bit early for me to make grand pronunciations on Kitano’s style (I’ve only seen five of his films, and reviewed just one2), but I’m drawn to his penchant for silent characters. His films have dialogue, but just enough, and the lead characters (particularly the ones in Fireworks and Violent Cop) are Snake Plisskin-esque in their lack of loquacity. The lead women are equally silent. It’d be dumb to speculate on the psychological reasons for this, but the effect is almost universally distancing — with the brilliant exception of Fireworks. In Violent Cop, the distance makes sense. In Boiling Point, we’re kept, perhaps, a step too removed from our protagonist.

2The significance of my not reviewing films is this: If I don’t write about it, I haven’t thought about it a great deal. Some people can think while meditating, some can do it aloud, using tape-recorders. I think through the end of a pen.

3I know it’s contradictory to find a beaten woman more disturbing than a guy who got his finger cut off, but that’s how I feel.

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