At the 2022 Fantastic Fest, actor/stunt choreographer/director Kensuke Sonomura unveiled his second feature film Bad City, the follow-up to the 2019 release HYDRA. His sophomore crime drama packed in as much intrigue and even more blood-letting, all aided by stellar performances from Yasukaze Motomiya (Baby Assassins), Tak Sakaguchi (Versus/Prisoners of the Ghostland), and frequent collaborator Masanori Mimoto (HYDRA/Baby Assassins), and lead of the film and writer Hitoshi Ozawa (Gozu). The punches hit hard, the blades cut deep, and there’s no such thing as innocence in Bad City, there’s only how close to the line one is willing to get without crossing over. Now, thanks to Well Go USA, fans of Sonomura’s work can enjoy it anytime they like via home video, though the release is extraordinarily light on bonus features.
If you’re interested in learning about Bad City in a limited capacity, head to the initial spoiler-free Fantastic Fest 2022 review. Moving forward, specific details of plot and characters may be discussed.
After Wataru Gojo (Lily Franky) is acquitted for many crimes and uses the court’s decision to announce he’s running for office, Superintendent Prosecutor Hirayama (Masaya Katô) decides to draw a line in the sand by putting together an off-the-books operation lead by well-respected-but-in-jail former captain Makoto Torada (Hitoshi Ozawa). Torada, with detectives Lieutenant Satoshi Kumamoto (Hideto Katsuya), Lieutenant Ryota Nishizaki (Masanori Mimoto), and Lieutenant Megumi Nohara (Akane Sakanoue), work to compile evidence of Gojo’s dealings in order to take him down for good. What they don’t realize is that one of Gojo’s associates, Kim Seung-gi (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi), is making moves of his own to clear out local yakuza with his head killer Han (Tak Sakaguchi) wielding the blade. As the bodies drop, Torada and his team, the newly formed Special Investigation Division Zero, must move quickly to stop Gojo and Kim, all while trying avoid a third faction with designs of revenge on Torada.
In the initial festival review, due to the limited resources available (no press kit, incomplete cast & crew listings), it was not then known to me that Ozawa wrote the script Sonomura was shooting with. The significance here is that Ozawa didn’t just have ownership of the character he’s portraying, but the story as a whole as both writer and lead of the film, making the themes as they relate to Torada (his character) even more interesting in their specificity. I teased this a bit in the initial review, but Torada possesses an air of exhaustion, just worn from being a part of a system that is rife with corruption and failure. At the end of the film, he proclaims that the reason he never got promoted and remained in a detective position was that he was concerned he would give in to the temptation those above him so frequently did. This reveals that Torada’s world-weariness isn’t just about being framed for murder or feeling like he’s unable to make effective change as one cop against a sea of criminals, but that he’s well-aware of the corruption of the powerful and the tenacity of good people. So much so that he’d rather stay as a detective in a division than rise up, be seen as someone who can’t be promoted, not just because he can do more work in that role, but because there’s less of a chance that he himself will join the criminals, profiting off of pain instead of protecting the innocent.
Something else I mentioned in the initial review that ties directly to this is Torada’s wardrobe: his USAF bomber jacket. Born in 1962 Tokyo, Ozawa grew up in post-World War II Japan in a period of rebuilding, specifically an era of Japan that was modeling itself after the United States. This period of time is explored through Yasuzô Masumura’s 1958 comedic satire Giants and Toys (another film worth checking out), with the point being made of how Japan moves away from older codes and traditions as they remake themselves. The point being that, if one presumes that Torada is of the same age and grew up in Japan in the same period of time, that wearing a bomber jacket makes a certain amount of sense. Torada would have grown up hearing about the war through the lens of the past and may have seen the American influence as a positive. Combine that with the rough-and-tumble cinematic view of American masculinity and you’ve got a quintessential cinematic action cop in the form of a man who exists by his own code, is willing to get his hands dirty in the name of justice, and takes personally each loss even if compartmentalizing things in the moment so as to get the job done. With Ozawa’s hand steeped firmly in every aspect of the script, what may just be a minor costume choice leads one down a realistic path of personal ethics and historical significance.
Of course, all of this is merely a deep dive into the ideas expressed in the film, but is not the main reason so many will check this film out. In the original review, I explored the action choreography and the way in which Sonomura, through Masanori and Tak, specifically, though Ozawa is no slouch either, utilizes set and scene as the skeleton for several brilliantly constructed and executed action sequences. Each one showcases the talents of the actors, while also conveying who the characters are. The coolness of Tak’s Han, played in silence, makes the character’s deadly speed all the more terrifying. Similarly, Masanori’s Nishizaki is more vocal and natural, often bringing lightness to a situation, so when he gets serious, we feel the tonal shift. That Masanori is able to keep up with Tak’s speed makes the pairing of the two exciting to see, even if Nishizaki needs helps from Sakanoue’s (Your Eyes Tell) Nohara in order to take the killer down. In a re-watch, the fights are still thrilling and allow for a greater appreciation for the stunt work to develop. Of all things, Sonomura action does not disappoint.
As mentioned, there’re no real bonus materials on this release. Just like HYDRA, all that’s included on the physical release are previews for other Well Go USA releases and a trailer for Bad City. However, one thing that may interest folks less keen for the original Japanese audio track, this edition does include a new English Dub in full 5.1. Personally, given the strength of Sonomura’s choreography and the murky ethics that Bad City dwells in, at least some kind of featurette either exploring the production or themes would be appreciated. Sadly, there’s nothing of real bonus value on the release other than a physical copy (which is, itself, a bit of treasure as physical media is rapidly losing its validity in the home entertainment market).
There’s a history in cinema of crime stories which feature action but aren’t afraid of asking bigger questions in the process. The good ones linger, allowing the audience to build over time, that audience wanting to revisit them again and again. We see this with films like Hey, Madam! (1985), Police Story (1985), and Royal Warriors (1986), to name a few. It’s too early to call Bad City a classic like those, but I do think Sonomura’s film is going to find its audience and hold on to a spot in the legacy of action crime dramas.
Bad City Special Features:
- English Language Dub
- Three (3) Well Go USA Previews
Available on digital August 1st, 2023.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD September 19th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Well Go USA Bad City webpage.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.