Fantastic Fest 2018: The Blood of Wolves

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Vicious, corrupt Detective Ogami Shogo (Kôji Yakusho) and his rookie partner Hioka Shuichi (Tôri Matsuzaka) are investigating the disappearance of a company’s employees amidst an escalating yakuza turf war in 1988.

As we follow their case, we learn more about the extent of corruption in Hiroshima’s police department. Director Kazuya Shiraishi and writer Yûko Yuzuki (working from his own novel) show us how those ties between law and crime become their own kind of scaffolding, upholding some kind of order in the face of an all-out gang war. Dirty cops, reckless thugs, old men and their empires all crash together while young Hioka works to find a moral path.

The Blood of Wolves hit all my buttons for crime movies. The villains are at once friendly and terrible, and you find yourself having to remember who here is still working toward a larger good and who is just a thug. The film routinely sets up romantic notions of good and evil before blurring and demolishing them, until we finally understand the full story of Ogami. He’s more complex than ‘bad cop’, despite dropping himself well past the level of gangster on several occasions. He abuses his power frequently, and has a real darkness to him. The marvel of the film comes from the character arc of Matsuzaka’s Hioka as he learns the difference between ‘good’ and ‘lawful’.

While falling squarely alongside films like Training Day or Dark Blue, The Blood of Wolves sold me with it’s 80s period setting and great use of Hiroshima as a locale. I was invested in the case almost immediately, and then found myself curious as to the connections between the yakuza gangs, the dirty police, and the uneasy peace in the street. By the time we reached the third act, I wanted to applaud at the changes in these men and how masterfully the filmmaker brought them about.

If you’re needing a tale about loyalty, redemption, and loss of innocence (but with a lot of killings), The Blood of Wolves delivers.

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Les Weiler enjoys television to a stunning degree, along with various movies of questionable cultural value. His 90s college education left him woefully unprepared for the real job of the future: curating a profitable social media presence. The last video game he played well was Goldeneye. He can be heard on The TV Dudes podcast, The Good Die Young podcast, and elsewhere.