Tatsushi Omori has had a rather strange career beginning with the incredibly grim Whispering of the Gods which was so controversial that the only way he could screen it was to set up a marquee in a park and put it on himself. Since then he has in recent years softened a bit with the incredibly charming Seto and Utsumi and heartwarming tea ceremony drama Every Day a Good Day. Goodbye Cruel World (グッバイ・クルエル・ワールド) returns to the nihilism of Omori’s earliest work, but with a layer of heavy irony in its self-consciously cool aesthetics.
This is world is cruel indeed, pulling each of the worldweary protagonists into an inescapable hell of crime and violence. As the film opens, a car of full of criminals drives towards a love hotel where they plan to rob a bunch of yakuza in the middle of a money laundering exchange. If you have to rob someone, perhaps it’s fair enough to rob the yakuza but for obvious reasons it’s not a very good idea. Still, the fact is they accomplish the heist pretty easily not least because the yakuza are lazy and complacent. Not only could they not be bothered to change their meeting place like the boss told them, the lookouts didn’t even put up much of a fight. “Japan’s gone to hell,” “old-leftist gone bad” Hamada (Tomokazu Miura) sighs lamenting that no one does their job properly anymore.
Now in his 70s, Hamada waxes on his days as a student protestor while now a disillusioned old man who was previously dismissed from his position as a political secretary for cooking the books. In a last ditch bid to change the status quo, he later hatches on a plan to rob the secret campaign stashes of the incumbent conservative candidate whom he has also exposed for tax evasion and an affair with a bar hostess not to mention a general air of sleaze and corruption. The robbers’ main competition is a corrupt policeman who’s been working with the yakuza ever since he was foolish enough to accept a tip off from boss Ogata (Shingo Tsurumi) to arrest some of his rivals.
Like everyone else, what Detective Hachiya (Nao Omori) wants is out but there is no out from this hellish world of crime. Anzai (Hidetoshi Nishijima) tried to go straight in the wake of anti-organised crime legislation but there are no second chances for ex-yakuza. He just wanted a normal life, but it’s hard to leave the yakuza world behind when you can’t even open a bank account and no wants to employ a former thug. Hachiya steals the money to buy himself a new life trying to resurrect his father-in-law’s failed hotel in a moribund seaside town where the other businessmen lament the decline of the local shopping area amid the economic complexities of the contemporary society. But he’s frustrated by the arrival of former associates, Iijima (Eita Okuno), who blackmails him over his yakuza past and poignantly says he’s done for the same reasons Anzai does the robbery, he just wants to be able to live together with his wife and child.
Miru (Tina Tamashiro) says she came up with the idea of robbing the yakuza to escape sex work and is helped by hotel employee Yano (Hio Miyazawa) who dreams of running away with her. She says all she wants is sleep, while he wants to live comfortably in a quiet seaside town. Like the kids that hang round Hamada, they represent a kind of rebellious youth rejecting the corrupt authority of men like Anzai and Hachiya but are quickly slapped down. As Hachiya points out, the “grown-ups” took all the money and the only reason they’re not dead is that Ogata wants them to clean up their mess before they go by taking out the other gang members. During the robbery, Miru appears an unwilling participant so frightened that she cannot pry her fingers from the pistol when the sociopathic Hagiwara demands it back. But on her eventual murder spree/mission of revenge she’s an ice cold killer with vacant eyes trying to shoot her way out of existential malaise.
Omori signals the degree to which they are all trapped by the ubiquity of retro nostalgia in the unlikely ‘70s getaway car and the soul music which plays on its sound system. Seeming to directly reference ‘90s Tarantino in musical choices, the film’s self-consciously cool aesthetic sometimes works against it even while hinting at the general sense of emptiness which envelops those caught in this hellish underworld. As Anzai later suggests, they are all the same, covered in blood with nowhere to go for there is no place for any of them in contemporary Japan. A bloody tale of nihilistic futility and self-destructive violence, Goodbye Cruel World suggests that there’s no way back from the purgatorial exile of an underworld existence.
Goodbye Cruel World screened as part of this year’s Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.
Original trailer (no subtitles)