Based on a short story by Clive Barker The Midnight Meat Train is Ryuhei Kitamura’s first English language film.Looking for inspiration for his art photographer Leon (Bradley Cooper) decends into the subway at night. He saves a young girl from a group of attackers only to find out the next day that she has disappeared. With the police unwilling to help he starts to investigage himself. In a Blow Up style sceen he studies his photogrphs and discovers a mysterious man, Mahogany (Vinnie Jones) Mahogany a butcher by trade is killing people on the late night train, but how long has he been doing it for and why? In an interesting plot device we get to see a litle more of what Mahogany is doing after each killing until finally through Leon we get to see his clinical process. The visual style is great with use of slow motion and time lapse as well as excellent use of light. Although bloody, gory and violent it is actually quite tame in comparison to the directors Japanese films. In the final half hour the film begins to play with the audiences perception of what is going on before the final reveal. Someone had clearly seen Vinnie Jones in Gone In Sixtiy Seconds and realised it would be best to keep his lines to an absolute minimum, I think they succeeded!
Other films by the same director that are worth watching are:
Versus (2000):A quite bizarre film that combines the Zombie and Gangster genres with a few sword fights thrown in for good measure. The Forest of Resurrection is the “444th portal to the other side” one of 666! An escaped convict, a woman and a group of gangsters all find their way there. As people are killed and buried they come back to life as zombie type creatures accompanied by the evil spirit that resurrected them. Although clearly low budget the film is full of imaginarily executed action sequences and some fantastic fight scenes. A sequel has long been rumoured as the film has little narrative closure. There has been no sequel yet but in 2004 The Ultimate Versus was a 3 disc DVD that can be described as the ultimate directors cut. The film features completely new footage shot with the original cast and crew. There has also been talk of an American based sequel/remake that would be set at the same time as the original film but using one of the other portals.
Having finished his work early as one of nine directors on a short film Project called Jam Films Ryûhei Kitamura and another director Yukihiko Tsutsumi were given the opportunity by produced Shinya Kawai. The two directors proposed to make a film in one week featuring two actors battling in one setting. The two films had the collective name of Duel Project; Ryûhei Kitamura’s film was called Aragami (2003). A simple story of a god and a samurai fighting in series of battles in an isolated temple. He did break the rules a little bringing in a few other actors to play smaller parts to help the narrative. An interesting film project that is well worth a look.
His next film was possibly his best Azumi (2003)is the story of an orphaned girl who is raised along with nine other children by a master Samurai. After years of training they have to face one final test before going on their first mission. The test is nothing short of brutal. Their mission is to kill three warlords preventing a civil war that will be devastating for the country. The main reason the film works is the lead character Azumi (played by the impossibly cute Aya Ueto) as proved by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill and Ang Lee in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you can’t go far wrong when you give a beautiful woman a sword and drop her into the middle of the male dominated action genre.
Sky High (2003)returns the director to a more supernatural setting after the almost real world of Azumi. It is based on a Manga comic of the same name and ties in to a TV series of the same name. A serial killer is killing people and taking their hearts. Detective Kanzaki who is on the case believes along with the rest of the police that the killings are random. However it is revealed that the victims are guardians of the gateway to the afterlife. The next victim is Mina, Kanzaki’s fiancée on the day they are due to be married. The killers Kudo and Rei are actual after six hearts they need to summon demons from the Gate of Rage who will grant their every desire. The unfortunate side effect is that doing this will open the gate of rage sending the world into darkness. In the afterlife Mina meats the guardian of the gate and is presented with three options and twelve days to make an impossible decision.