Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 13th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, April 19th, 1997
Director: Rokuro Mochizuki
Writer: Toshiyuki Morioka
Cast: Yoshio Harada, Reiko Kataoka, Sho Aikawa, Ko Kitamura
DVD released: July 26th, 2005
Approximate running time: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo
DVD Release: Artsmagic
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.95
Noriyuki Kunihiro (Yoshio Harada) has most of life in prison for the killing two men while he was a Yakuza. He is quickly reunited with an old friend Naoto Tanigawa (Sho Aikawa) who offers Kunihiro a job with the Moyjing gang. Now a free man Kunihiro was to leave his past with the Yakuza behind him and respectfully declines his friends offer. Kunihiro briefly works in construction before finally accepting a job as driver for the Moyjing gang. It doesn’t take long before his past comes knocking and he is asked to help rescue the two men he dropped off who are now being held hostage by a rival gang who refuses to pay their debt. Kunihiro is able to get the men back safely and his bosses money back which only adds to his legend. Later that evening while at a piano bar in which the Moyjing gang is holding a party in his honor he meets a pianist Asako Hino (Reiko Kataoka) who he falls in love with. Asako convinces Kunihiro to help her buy a gun to help carry out revenge against pervert who has taken erotic photos of her. The man has a brother who is a member of a rival gang and to appease them for Kunihiro actions they banish him forever from the world of the Yakuza. Now that he is free of any Yakuza ties will Kunihiro find happiness with Asako or will he Yakuza past continue to haunt him?
Rokuro Mochizuki began his career directing pink films before moving into hardcore pornographic films. By the early 1990’s Mochizuki would shift into more mainstream films like Another Lonely Hitman and Onibi the Fire Within throughout the 1990’s. In recent years has went back to making hardcore pornographic films after the collapse of his production company.
While most director’s bombard us with flashy visuals and rapid fire editing they stray away from building up their characters into something more then one dimensional. Rokuro Mochizuki’s stripped down style is in direct contrast with what is currently in vogue. He takes the basic elements of the Yakuza genre and tightens them up to their barest essentials with the main focus being of the journey of his characters. His dedication to the development of his characters adds to the believability of their actions. Onibi: The Fire Within is filled with symbolic imagery like the abandon van that we see Kunihiro get into at the beginning of the film and he returns to this same van near the end of the film. Through subtle actions like this Rokuro Mochizuki tells us that Kunihiro after all of his attempts to the world of the Yakuza behind has come full circle to complete his destiny. Yoshio Harada often low key performance as Kunihiro holds this piece together as he is able to balance the characters darker side without losing the sympathy of the audience. Rokuro Mochizuki perfectly mixes the elements of a love story with the backdrop of a Yakuza film. It is also Asako’s love in the end that ultimately lights The Fire within Kunihiro who has been trying desperately to control his rage. Even though I was not that impressed with another one of Rokuro Mochizuki’s Yakuza films Another Lonely Hitman I found Onibi: The Fire Within to be an extremely satisfying film that is filled with poetic imagery and tragic performances. Overall the acting is superb and Rokuro Mochizuki’s directing is solid.
Artsmagic presents Onibi: The Fire Within in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves its original 1.78.:1 aspect ratio. The image offers solid black levels and the colors look nicely saturated through out. There are no problems with compression and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum, still nothing that ever becomes too distracting. The image looks soft at times mostly during darker scenes and grain is kept to a minimum. This DVD offers two audio options a Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo mixes both are in the films original native language Japanese. Overall both audio tracks are in great shape with no problems with hiss or distortion with Dolby Digital 5.1 getting the slight edge for its fuller sound. The dialog is clean as it is always easy to understand. The effects and music are evenly balanced as they never distort or drown out the dialog. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand.
Extras for this release include bios & filmographies for all the major cast and crew. These bios are well written giving an insightful overview of the cast and crew. Other extras include a thirty minute interview with the films director Rokuro Mochizuki who discusses the origins of Onibi: The Fire Within like how he based the lead on a real life killer. He also discusses some of the problems he ran into during production and working with the cast. Overall it is another interesting interview with Rokuro Mochizuki that offers an in depth look into the man and his working process. Rounding out the extras is an audio commentary track with Midnight Eye’s Tom Mes. Once again he comes through with a wealth of knowledge and interesting tidbits. Artsmagic has put together another solid DVD release that is loaded with a wealth of extras. Onibi: The Fire Within expands and perfects themes first explored in Another Lonely Hitman making it Rokuro Mochizuki most fully realized film to date, highly recommended.