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ONIBI: THE FIRE WITHIN

Japan, 1996 (MIFF 1998, Sushi and a Switchblade)

Director: Rokuro Mochizuki

Kunihiro was once known as the 'Ball of Fire', the most feared hitman in the Japanese underworld until the law finally caught up with him. Released after a long stint in jail, all he desires is the quiet life. Kunihiro finds his former gangland associates changed for the worse. Motivated by greed and self-preservation, lacking honour, the new generation of Yakuza disgust Kunihiro and he goes looking for an honest job. But, as Michael Corleone was to find out in The Godfather, the Mob just keeps dragging you back.

Onibi is a tale of a lone man obsessed with good but caught in a world which has lost its integrity. Kunihiro meets up with old rival Tanigawa, who tries to sway him back into the fold. Kunihiro asks for just one thing - Tanigawa's camera, which becomes a driving motif throughout the film. Kunihiro's eventual involvement with the Yakuza leads him to a club piano player, Asako, who asks Kunihiro to help her kill a man who has nude photos of her.

Following his success Skinless Night and Another Lonely Heart, Mochizuki has again worked from a novel by Yamanouchi Yukio, a writer who has previously worked as a legal consultant to the largest organised crime syndicate in Japan. Embracing the novel's inside-view of Yakuza society, Mochizuki gives a brand new sensibility to the genre. Armed with a camera and a gun, Kunihiro's dilemma becomes a question of distant observer of events versus willing participant of senseless violence. In teasing out the relationship between Kunihiro and Asako, the film explores the photographed image as a trace of memory which should be sacred but is too often exploited. A complex, beautiful and highly intelligent look at the Asian underworld.

Rokuro Mochizuki was born in 1957 in Tokyo, and trained on the job as an assistant to notable filmmakers Genji Nakamura and Mamoru Watanbe. In 1987 Mochizuki founded his own production company, E Staff Union. His films include Underworld Reporter (1993) and Debeso (1996).

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