Sakura Ando and Ryosuke Yamada star as step-siblings who become involved in the violent underworld in this crime drama. Neri (Ando) works as part of a gang defrauding vulnerable people, under the auspices of the ex-Yakuza Takagi (Namase Katsuhisa). She lives a rough life in a slum in Osaka, surrounded by fellow homeless and societal drop-outs, after leaving Tokyo many years before. When her brother Yashiro (Yamada) is released from jail, she asks Tamaki to give him a position in the organization. Tamaki has plans of his own, taking on a hit job and accumulating gambling debts with disreputable individuals. Nira is drawn into this while also facing the prospect of a violent billionaire (Yasushi Fuchikami) who is tracking her down. All the while the police are on the trail, attempting to piece together evidence to take down the fraud ring.

“Bad Lands”, based on Hiroyuki Kurokawa’s 2015 novel “Keiso” (“Weeds”) and directed by Masato Harada (Hell Dogs) is a complex crime thriller with a large cast of characters and several plot threads twisted together. At its heart is Sakura Ando’s Neri, whose criminal work comes more through necessity than choice. Ando is excellent in the role, with her acerbic retorts to her male accomplices and her simmering resentment and trauma that has pushed her to this point. It is clear that the film is based on a novel with the interconnecting stories often feeling a little shoehorned in, the main plot following Neri and Yashiro, while sub-plots involving Neri’s past and the ongoing police investigation could have formed whole films by themselves. However, this large canvas approach does create a real-world feel that the film capitalises on, particularly early on as we see the gang attempt to take down a score in public, with every extra a potential witnesses, co-conspirator, or police officers. The whole supporting cast do a great job, with scene stealers such as Ryudo Uzaki’s Mandala, an ex-Yakuza who now spends his days drinking and gambling. A classical soundtrack and allusions to Dostoevsky and Hegel give the film an air of sophistication amongst the low-lifes and thugs who populate its world.

In an over two-hour run-time the film manages to cram in so many characters and stories that it is hard to pick out a single overarching message. Neri and Yashiro are understandably made somewhat sympathetic despite their actions, while the rest of the people around them are variously depicted as despicable leeches who attempt to profit off the misery of others, or those unfortunates who society has let fall off at the lower end. The most reprehensible charater is without doubt Yasushi Fuchikami’s sadistic CEO, who abuses women physically and sexually and lacks any moral compass. In a world in which such an individual can become an ultra-wealthy and highly-respected company boss, is it any wonder that brutality and avariciousness typify the lower orders as well. The moral choices presented to the characters may be black and white to many, but the film offers shades of grey too. The police investigation is hindered by higher-ups wishing to protect certain connections they have with the gang bosses they are there to keep in check; while those at the bottom show certain values of trust, loyalty and compassion that are admirable and notably absent from the people society asks us to respect. A fun, complex crime drama with a superb cast of characters that gives an insight into the increasingly stratified society of modern Japan.

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