Movie Review: SHINJUKU SWAN: KABUKICHO SCOUT SURVIVAL (2015)


Original work: Wakui Ken
Director: Sono Sion
Lead cast: Ayano Go, Iseya Yusuke, Yamada Takayuki, Sawajiri Erika

The story takes place in Kabukicho, the renowned red-light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Our hero Tatsuhiko, having hit rock bottom, aimlessly wanders the vibrant streets and soon finds himself in an uneven fight against some thugs. He is rescued by Mako, one of the local leaders, who then offers him a job of a host club scout, sensing that the newcomer's natural charm will become advantageous for the business. Eager to repay his savior and to aid the girls in finding employment, Tatsuhiko immediately accepts. However, before long, he learns that they are in fact recruiting prostitutes, not hostesses. Although disturbed and conflicted, our guileless hero chooses to continue with the job, pledging that every girl scouted by him will be happy in the end.


Shinjuku Swan presents to us the odious world of adult entertainment, soiled in uncontrolled crime, drugs, and gang wars. In a city where one can become everything out of nothing, people's greed is endless and the competition is savage. Everyone is striving to make it to the top and gain control, be it through clever tactic or sheer physical force.

Among all this chaos, we have Tatsuhiko, untainted by his surroundings and perhaps the only character without a secret agenda, carrying on and trying to keep his recruits content and safe. Because to him, they are not products in trade business, but normal girls, and therefore it's his duty to protect them. The main question is whether that kind of naivete will persevere, or if our hero will succumb to the darkness of his new home.

It's difficult for me to write about this film, mainly because I tend to stay a mile away from this genre, especially with mature rating. But I couldn't miss a collaboration between my two favorite actors, so here I am, trying to be completely unbiased and review it properly.

This is definitely a character and interaction driven story, and this assemblage of intriguing personalities is the main reason I will say I liked the movie rather than not. I was a bit turned off by the cliché antagonist though. Some other characters seem to be plotting something ominous behind the scenes, but we only get to see the surface, just enough to suspect them. We should either expect a sequel in the works, or we are left hanging intentionally.

Looking at the big picture, I think this work succeeded in what it was seeking to portray for the audience. We have our libertine realistic setting with its beseeming inhabitants to bring out the revulsion, and we have our innocent hero to bring out the sympathy. We have plenty of action (or should I say, brutality) and a hint of romance, some tragedy and some humor. Albeit predictable in some ways, the story is well-balanced and engaging. I will not be recommending it, but I am glad to have seen it.


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