Frustrated with college life and looking for some action and adventure, Shin goes off campus and takes a trip to "one of the most dangerous cities in the world," New York City. Unfortunately for Shin, late 1990s New York doesn't take too kindly to a Japanese tourist. In addition to racism and the general "congeniality" of New Yorkers, Shin is mugged and left stranded and broke. Shin's search for food leads him to a deli, where he attempts to steal a pastry. Catching him in the act are Lee and Takeda, two 20-something Japanese thieves who immediately take Shin in (after holding up the store, of course). From then on, it's a tale of poetry, love and violence.
Shot over the course of several years in New York and Japan, HAZARD is Sion Sono's follow-up to STRANGE CIRCUS. While I've never had the privilege of seeing STRANGE CIRCUS, or any other of Sono's acclaimed works (including the infamous SUICIDE CLUB), HAZARD has piqued my interest into seeing just what other stuff Sono's been hiding from yours truly. It's been a while since I've seen a film that was a nice balance of drama and action as this.
One of the first things that struck me about HAZARD was Sono's use of single long takes. These shots take up the majority of the film, making the whole thing into a sort of quasi-documentary looking at of a group of hooligans living on the edge. The whole notion of consequences-be-damned is explored to its fullest here, including petty larceny and selling ice cream laced with speed to get by. Oh yeah, there's also no shortage of guns and general mayhem to be found here.
Acting-wise, Joe Odagiri is a delight as the protagonist Shin. Naive to the situation at first, Shin evolves from his humble beginnings as a rookie to the big city, into someone who becomes so overloaded with everything that's gone on around him, he eventually becomes as bleak and uncaring about his surroundings as he does himself. As for his counterparts, Jai West performs well as the skittish and unpredictable Lee, while Motoki Fusumi's Takeda balances out the duo as the slow, shy type.
Probably the strongest aspect of HAZARD is also its weakest. Sono initially presents Japan as being boring, then contrasting it with almost over-the-top and stereotypical (from a Japanese perspective) characters and locations in New York. These stereotypes in turn become parodies that threaten to knock you out of the viewing experience. You can see Sono has a point with some of the over-the-top antics (notably when the trio adopt clichéd American gangster attire and bust into a club, brandishing guns), but other times it's hard to take seriously.
More dramatic than action-oriented, HAZARD isn't a full-out wild ride, but it never needed to be. Uniquely shot and with interesting characters, HAZARD is a Japanese take on New York, and the dangerous underground culture within.
Video: Shin's experience in New York is made all the more grittier with this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Sono's varying use of filters (notably yellow) and black-and-white footage make for interesting sights and help to contrast between Japan and New York. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of detail in much of the film, and some of the darker scenes eat up what detail there is. As well, the entire film is very noisy, and very noticeable at times. Still, for a film that was shot on next-to-nothing, it's not terrible. But don't expect HD-like visuals, either.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 Japanese track is a bit misleading, as it's a mixture of both English and Japanese, as Shin and company switch between the two on the fly. Dialogue is clean and clear, with no distortion. There isn't much in terms of directional sounds (obviously), but the ambient sounds are plentiful and immersive. For the non-Japanese speakers, you also get English subtitles.
First up is Hazardous: An Interview With Sion Sono. Shot in black-and-white full frame with burned-in subtitles, Sono (speaking in Japanese) goes through questions regarding what he tries to say in his films, script ideas for HAZARD, and other interesting tidbits.
Following that is a Making Of featurette consisting of behind-the-scenes footage and banter between the cast and crew. Like the film itself, it's a mixture of Japanese and English, but unfortunately, no subtitles. Aside from showing the camaraderie between everyone and seeing just what kind of conditions Sono and crew had to shoot in (namely the rain), you also get a glimpse at some of their culinary talents.
Finally, housed within the digipack case is a 10-page booklet, consisting of an article by Chris Magee and an interview with Sion Sono by Yukio Todoroki.
Sono captures the joy of being young and adventurous in HAZARD, while showing the darkside to it all. The extras, while not as in-depth as some may want, are great for seeing some of the goings-on behind the scenes.