Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 13th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, June 27th, 1998
Director: Chi-Ngai Lee
Writers: Chi-Ngai Lee, Hisashi Nozawa
Cast: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Mirai Yamamoto, Kippei Shiina, Sihung Lung, Eric Tsang
DVD Released: July 19th, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 122 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS and Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Adness/Ventura
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Kabukicho is a forgotten world. It is a place where people of different tongues and races meet, where they fight against each other to gain money, power and territory. Kenichi (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is half Chinese and half Japanese is former member of the Taiwanese gang Nu Luo Quan who know deals in stolen goods on the streets Kabukicho. He decided to go out on his own when he realized that his mixed blood meant no advancement in any of locale gangs. Now a lone wolf Kenichi tries to balance his relationships with Taiwan, Shanghai and Beijing criminal underground that rule with an iron fist the streets of Kabukicho. The Shanghai mafia force Kenichi to track down his former partner Wu Fu-chun who is wanted for murdering Yuan Cheng Kuei’s right hand man. While looking for Wu Fu-chun, Kenichi finds his Wu Fu-chun;s girlfriend Natsumi Sato who is willing to sell his whereabouts to Kenichi is the price is right. Kenichi will be forced to decide between loyalty and love the closer gets to the truth.
Sleepless Town is departure from the Yakuza films currently being made Japan as its main focus is on building tension and mood instead of bombarding the viewer with excessive carnage that is used in most cases to shock the viewer and not advance the plot. Outside of two action set pieces almost all of the films violence is implied or referred too.
Director Chi-Ngai Lee has a strong visual sense as he always is keeping the camera moving with his fluid steady cam shots that draws the viewer closer to the action that is going on. His set ups are always interesting and he immaculately frames every composition. The overall look of the is an updated version of the classic Hollywood film noir style as Chi-Ngai Lee perfectly switches subdued colors with more vivid tones. The Natsumi Sato character is your prototype femme fatale as she seduces and pits two men against each other to further her own personal gain. Like a plot device lifted straight out of the classic film noir the Third Man Wu Fu-chun is talked about but never seen for the first half of the film. By doing this the director has added to mystique that surrounds the Wu Fu-chun character and when he does finally show himself the impact of his arrival is that much more powerful. This film like many Yakuza films is filled with double and even triple crosses that at times make it hard to follow who is truly aligned with whom. Even though most of the film is dialog and character driven there are two outstanding action set pieces. The acting is very good with the two leads Takeshi Kaneshiro and Mirai Yamamoto making the strongest impact. Sleepless Town is a refreshing take on a familiar genre from a visionary director Chi-Ngai Lee who isn’t afraid to take chances.
Adness presents Sleepless Town in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The color palette is lucid through out and flesh tones look healthy. The black levels are strong and remain constant through out as grain is kept to minimum. The image is in great shape overall as there is an exceptional amount of detail present in every frame. There are no problems with compression, artifacts or edge enhancement. This DVD comes with only one audio option the films original Japanese, Mandarin and Taiwanese language track. This track is available in DTS or Dolby Digital Stereo. Dialog is easy to follow and understand. The effects and music is perfectly blended with the dialog track. Overall both tracks offer razor sharp sound that is free of any hiss or distortion. The two audio tracks are like night and day with the hands down winner the DTS track with its more robust sound that helps heightens the tension that builds through out. The DTS is takes advantage of them full sonic field giving every speaker a complete workout from top to bottom. English subtitles have been included that are easy to follow and understand. Surprisingly after all the work that Adness put into the audio/video presentation for this DVD they have not extended this excellence to the films extras features. This DVD is a bare bones affair that contains no extras feature not even the films original trailer. It would have been nice to hear the director discuss this film since he obviously put a lot of thought into the set up of his shots and the look of the film. One positive about this release is that once again Adness delivers another reasonably priced DVD that gives fans a chance to the film with its best audio/video presentation to date. Sleepless Town breathes life into the Yakuza genre by giving it a much needed face lift by shifting the focus away from gratuitous acts of violence that dominate most modern Yakuza films, highly recommend.