Just before Kitamura traveled to America to direct Midnight Meat Train he made one last film in Japan. LoveDeath would mark Kitamura's return to his Versus form, but somewhere along the line something went wrong. The film didn't get picked up overseas and was left to rot in Japan leaving only a few English-language reviews, mostly burning the film to the ground. Boo to that.
Ever since Kitamura was given an actual budget to make his films, he saw his fanbase decrease. His urge to make more commercial films was not appreciated, turning him into a cultfan enfant terrible in record time. That said, I never had too much trouble enjoying his later films (safe for Azumi). They are far from perfect, but still fun and entertaining. And even though his latest films have earned him some renewed respect, LoveDeath was obviously the victim of this downwards spiral. A film that should have had no trouble at all finding its audience in the West was left for dead, leaving hardened Kitamura fans with empty hands.
The film is not really what you'd expect from a Kitamura film though. It's hip and flashy and reaches back to Versus a couple of times, but it might be better suited as a companion piece to Katsuhito Ishii's Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip Girl (or Party 7 for that matter) rather than being compared to his own body of work. The two films bear many resemblances, ranging for similar storylines and crazy character to equal amounts of seemingly random Japanese weirdness.
LoveDeath is the story of Sai, a rather cool assassin who one day run into Sheela, lethal girl material and a yakuza boss' girlfriend. The fact that Sai runs away with Sheela is bad enough, but to make things worse it turns out Sheela just robbed the yakuza gang for all they're worth. Needless to say, an army of yakuza henchmen and crooked investigators is released to recapture the couple. There's some extra fluff about Chrysalis Day (the turning point in your life) but that's just to get things rolling.
With its 150 minutes running time LoveDeath is a rather long film, but it needs that time to cycle through its enormous list of characters. Very few of those characters are interchangeable as they all have their own quirky characteristics. Aside from the huge list of main characters there seems to be an ever bigger number of cameos with quite a few scenes thrown in just for laughs and showing off Japanese (b-list) celebrities. Acting is decent and appropriate all around and I was especially pleased to see Susumu Terajima in a fleshed out role again. Hilarious performance.
Visually Kitamura is still strong, certainly when there's not too much CGi around to play with. LoveDeath is colorful and vibrant, showcasing all style and no substance camerawork and throwing in some extravagant costumes to liven up the visuals as well as the characters. For a 150 minute film it's good to see that Kitamura is able to keep the level of visual playfulness consistent throughout the whole film. The soundtrack is equally pleasing and features quite a few electronic-based tracks to keep the adrenaline pumping. Nothing mind-blowing but exactly what a film like this needs.
Some reviews brought up names like Tarantino and Rodriguez, or referenced films like Smokin' Aces. For those remembering the initial reception of Ishii's Shark Skin Man this should be considered ultimate proof of its likeness. Even though these comparisons hold a certain truth (empty dialogues and stretched out scenes) DeathLove is simply too Japanese to compare it to its American counterparts. LoveDeath exists in a world where manga-influences dictate the rules, so don't be surprised if you run into dildo guns and nurse costumes along the way.
If you liked Katsuhito's first film there is plenty to like here, though LoveDeath is not exactly the better of the two. It does equals Ishii's first film but being a good 10 years younger people might be expecting a bit more. On the other hand, LoveDeath brings a guaranteed 150 minutes of fun if you accept it for what it is. It's all fluff, all style, no substance and utterly weird, but that's what makes these films so much fun. It's probably Kitamura's best film since Versus and a treat for all that love manga turned real.
If you're interested you can skip through the overly long trailer to spot some of the freakier scenes.