King of the Jail Breakers / Itao Itsuji no datsugoku-ou / 板尾創路の脱獄王
Despite the unexpected and tragic passing of his infant daughter this last year, veteran actor and comedian, Itao Itsuji (Tokyo Gore Police, Air Doll) soldiered on, completing his wildly uneven, often nutty and very passionate film-directing debut with King of the Jail Breakers. Ostensibly following the real life exploits of Masayuki Suzuki, an early 20th century criminal, folk hero and obsessive prison escape artist, Itsuji plays Suzuki with grim determination, never speaking a word through the entire film. He goes through escape after escape – each time being returned to his cell with stronger chains and shackles and increasing brutality by his captors. About two thirds through the action, the film takes a left turn, flashbacking to some ham fisted psychological explanations of the hero and forward to his final imprisonment on a dark and foreboding “inescapable” island prison. Though burdened with thoughtless CGI, period gaffes and a bit too much overwrought symbolism, King of the Jail Breakers has moments of grotesquery and absurdity that hint at a new directing talent with a unique vision.
Originally published in EL Magazine, January 2010