Sogo Ishii (now Gakuryu Ishii) was one of the foremost filmmakers in Japan’s punk movement of the late ‘70s and ‘80s though his later work drifted further away from his youthful subculture roots. Perhaps best known for his absurdist look at modern middle class society in The Crazy Family or his noisy musical epics Crazy Thunder Road and Burst City, Ishii’s first feature length film is a quieter, if no less energetic, effort.
Like his other films from the period, Attack! Hakata Street Gang (突撃！博多愚連隊, Totsugeki! Hakata Gurentai) is fairly light on actual plot but broadly follows a group of low level street punks who get themselves into trouble after accidentally shooting the son of a yakuza boss in the leg and leaving him to bleed to death. In trouble with both the law and the gangs the guys find themselves in the midst of a turf war they are ill equipped to handle.
Very clearly an early effort, Attack! Hakata Street Gang is an ultra low budget production filmed on the real streets starring Ishii’s friends rather than professional actors. It can’t claim to any level of aesthetic beauty and, in truth, is not particularly interesting in terms of look or style but is filled with Ishii’s characteristic energy and runs fast even given its brief 67 minute run time.
Generally, Ishii sticks to a naturalistic representation of the street punk world. Taking his cue from the realistic action genre pioneered by Fukasaku et al not long before the film’s release, Ishii employs a similar approach to the fight scenes shooting from the middle of the action and often from low angles. Full of handheld camera and shakey, unfocused shots Attack! Hakata Street Gang is filled with the kind of youthful freshness that was very in vogue at the time.
Ishii does not appear to want to offer any kind of critique of this extremely masculine, violent world but solely to capture it on film. The street punks themselves are not particularly well drawn but there is a notably strange set of characters including an ultranationalist and his younger brother with learning difficulties who wears an SS helmet and rides around on a pushbike with a large nazi flag flying on the back. Nicknamed “manji” (the word for the Japanese “swastika”) the boy is obsessed with warfare and dangerously gets hold of one of the guns his older brother has adapted from a toy to be able to fire real bullets. He’s more of a plot point than anything else but still offers a convincingly weird sample of modern street life.
Also in keeping with the recent brand of cool action dramas, the film has an energetic score which is perhaps more jazz fusion or blues rock than outright punk which gives it more of a nihilistic, sophisticated tone than the full on noise explosion of some of Ishii’s later efforts. By the time the guys have taken their final stand by capturing hostages and occupying the local kindergarten (literally kids with guns) it’s pretty clear that there is no way back for this collection of down and out street rats.
Perhaps more interesting as an early work of a master than in its own right, Attack! Hakata Street Gang is an energetic and youthful exploration of a little seen late 1970s subculture. Literally playing fast and loose, Ishii’s debut is in many ways a statement of intent and none the worse for it.
Trailer for the Sogo Ishii The Punk Years 1976 – 1983 box which includes this film (though unfortunatly does not include any subtitles).