In case you were wondering, it's pretty much always a bad idea to wind up in Japan in a room full of identically dark-suited men, all of whom are paying attention to you at once and telling you to open your mouth. Your mouth is in big trouble at that moment.
In fact, you don't even have to find them. They'll find you. At the dentist's office. Which means more trouble for your mouth. And if you're already one of their crew? Already on the payroll? Well, you're not safe then, either.
And that's how it goes in this hard-headed yakuza drama from Takeshi Kitano, a man who knows his way around the genre (see his awesome 2000 film Brother as soon as you can) and gives you exactly what you expect and want: cool bad guys, creative killings, cops on the take and underlings nipping at the heels of the big boss while desperately maneuvering for position, employing both figurative and literal backstabbing.
Kitano -- who wrote, directed and edited -- stars as Otomo, an old-school enforcer and perennial right-hand-man who's good at the dirty work of eliminating enemies but not so quick on the uptake when it comes to the modern rules of engagement. He's the man who still operates by the old codes, the one who thinks it's proper to voluntarily chop off his own finger by way of appeasement to a higher-up while all the other guys stand around wondering why he didn't get the memo that nobody does that sort of thing anymore. Apparently, the yakuza of 2011 are a bunch of careerists and climbers, willing to round-robin bellow about brotherhood, honor and respect while simultaneously planning their own advancement, even if it means brutally destroying their own game in the process. Best repeated line every time somebody screws somebody else: "It's just a formality." Which means that it's exactly like every other profits-before-people workplace environment, just one without an HR department.
The film's engine chugs away, keeping up the solidly enjoyable frenzy of cruelty, with gangster turnover taking place so fast, so furiously -- accompanied by bleak punchlines at the expense of the weakest among them -- that at times it's tough keep the alliances and betrayals straight. And that's the point. "Disposable" is the new "sworn brother." But because Takeshi Kitano understands how to take this tiny, insular, starving-rats-in-a-box universe, infuse it with a broken humanity and then blow it up to include you, his characters earn your sympathy even as they mercilessly eliminate one another and the ground gives way beneath their feet.