Under The Open Sky review: Koji Yakusho portrays difficulties faced by ex-yakuza

·3-min read
Koji Yakusho stars as Mikami, a hot-tempered and impulsive ex-convict in Under The Open Sky. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
Koji Yakusho stars as Mikami, a hot-tempered and impulsive ex-convict in Under The Open Sky. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

Length: 127 minutes
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Taiga Nakano
Language: Japanese with English and Chinese subtitles
Release details: In theatres 3 June (Singapore)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Based on the award-winning Japanese novel Mibuncho by Ryuzo Saki, Under The Open Sky follows the story of a middle-aged ex-convict named Mikami (Koji Yakusho). Former yakuza (member of an organised crime syndicate) Mikami has spent most of his life in prison, and has just been released after serving 13 years for murder. But he faces many difficulties adapting to this new “clean” life and a society that has a deep-rooted prejudice against yakuza.

Under The Open Sky may be a slow-moving film with a runtime of more than two hours, but it has a lot to tell about the world of ex-convicts, especially those in Japan with ties to yakuza. In one thought-provoking scene, it's revealed that the difficulties of assimilating into societies that ex-convicts face can cause them to go back to their roots, committing yet another crime within five years of their prison release.

The issues that ex-convicts face are told through the character of Mikami, who is portrayed as a hot-tempered and impulsive man, and resorts to violence as a solution. Under The Open Sky features multiple intense scenes, such as when Mikami picks a fight with his inconsiderate and noisy neighbour, and when he brutally beats up two seemingly bad persons. This aggressive attitude is welcome in the yakuza business, but greatly despised in society, making it very difficult for Mikami to find a regular job.

Furthermore, when people find out about Mikami’s past, they become wary of him. In one instance, Mikami is stopped by a shopkeeper (Seiji Rokkaku) for alleged shoplifting, which infuriates the innocent Mikami. In yet another scene, Mikami applies for welfare benefits, but is told by the welfare officer (Yukiya Kitamura) that people with ties to yakuza cannot get welfare benefits. Mikami’s lawyer friend (Isao Hashizume) then reasons out a mind-opening view about how this prejudice causes sincere ex-yakuza to go back to their old ways because they cannot get the help they need.

Ironically, the Japanese title for Under The Open Sky — Subarashiki Sekai — literally translates to Wonderful World. Director Miwa Nishikawa said in an interview, “The title is ironic, and the story depicts the difficulties of living in society with all its traps and deceptions. Nonetheless, there are beautiful moments and connections in life and in the world. I chose this title for its broadness of encompassing both the good and the bad.”

Although Mikami faces many challenges in adapting to a new life, he is actually supported by a variety of people around him, including young TV director Tsunoda (Taiga Nakano) who helps him find his long lost mother, his lawyer friend, the shopkeeper who has wronged him, and the welfare officer who is originally skeptical of him. Despite the conflicts that arise between Mikami and his allies, they are all earnestly trying to help Mikami achieve a “normal” life — something so straightforward yet so complicated for an ex-convict.

To top it off, veteran actor Koji Yakusho did an outstanding portrayal of Mikami. Not only was he able to bring out the frustrations that Mikami has for an unjust society, he also presented the suspenseful yet torturing moments when Mikami tried to suppress his inner desire to violently attack a judgemental co-worker. Yakusho was also awarded the Best Performance in the 56th Chicago International Film Festival for his portrayal of Mikami.

If you enjoy movies that illustrate social issues, you will definitely enjoy the insights that Under The Open Sky offers.

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