Wataru Gojō (Lily Franky, Yakuza Apocalypse, Laplace’s Witch) CEO of the Gojo Conglomerate is the most powerful man in Kaiko City, the Bad City of the title. He’s just been acquitted of corruption charges and declared his candidacy for mayor in order to go after those he says are really behind the corruption.
As he’s holding a press conference an assassin (Tak Sakaguchi, Crazy Samurai Musashi, Versus) is hacking their way through members of the Sakurada Yakuza clan. Suspicion falls on the Korean mafia and their enigmatic leader Madam (Rino Katase, Tokyo Bordello, Code Blue: The Movie). It may not be a coincidence that their chief enforcer Kim Seung-gi (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, Blade of the Immortal, Zombies Come and I Reflect on My Life), and Gojō are acquainted.
As open warfare breaks out on the city’s streets the head of public safety Koizumi (Mitsu Dan, BraveStorm, Be My Slave) and Chief Prosecutor Hirayama (Masaya Katō, Karate Kill, Crying Freeman) form an unofficial task force to take Gojō. Unfortunately, the man they need to lead it Detective Makoto Torada (Hitoshi Ozawa, Dead or Alive, Gozu) is in jail for allegedly killing Madam’s son.
Best known as a stuntman and coordinator on films like Baby Assassins, I Am a Hero, and the animated Resident Evil films, Kensuke Sonomura made his directorial debut with Hydra in 2019. His follow-up, Bad City, is a tribute to Japan’s V-Cinema, the direct-to-video films of the 80s and 90s written by Ozawa who appeared in many of them.
The result is an impressively violent and action-packed film with the fictional Kaiko City serving as a sort of Japanese Gotham City, run by criminals who are protected by corrupt cops and other officials. Torada and his team Lieutenants Kumamoto (Hideto Katsuya, Kamen Rider W, Marebito), Nishikazi (Masanori Mimoto, Death Note, Meatball Machine Kodoku) whom he worked with, and Nohara (Akane Sakanoue, Ultraman X, Your Eyes Tell) who’s new to the force seem so outnumbered that they seem to have been set up to fail. But despite Torada’s age and Nohara’s lack of size, they’re never as outnumbered as they may seem.
Bad City runs just under two hours but actually puts all that time to use with a plot that’s not just full of the usual brawling and double-crosses. While the main villains are, of course, absolutely and irredeemably evil many of the other characters are more nuanced and have character arcs beyond killing people and getting killed. Most surprising is Torada’s path to redemption and how it intersects with Madam.
That adds a bit of depth to the incredible amount of mayhem Sonomura and Ozawa put up on the screen. Almost the entire last act is taken up by a series of fights that start as a massive gang brawl before breaking down into individual showdowns and a final, if not unexpected, revelation.
Bad City is one of the better action films to come my way this year and proves that Hydra wasn’t just a fluke, Sonomura is a director to watch. The characters have more depth than usual and the plot is an enjoyable mix of Yakuza thriller, gritty police procedural, and straight-up action film. Equally impressive, for a man of sixty, Ozawa looks quite credible in his many fight scenes.
Bad City made its North American debut at Fantastic Fest and will open in Japan on January 20th. You can check the film’s website and Facebook page for more information. They’re both in Japanese but that’s what Google Translate is for. For North American readers, Well Go USA has picked up the film and will release it first to its streaming service Hi-YAH! as a Hi-YAH! Original, then to theatres, VOD, and other Digital platforms at a later date. While you wait, FilmTagger can recommend something similar.