College student by day, assassin by night – Kikuno Kei has had a rough life. Will things get better once Kei accomplishes her dream of becoming a bookkeeper?
It has been a while since I watched a good Japanese film.
At the time of writing, The Violence Action has only been out for one day and I decided to go in blind for a watch. It did not disappoint.
The Violence Action is a Manga Adaption
Upon a bit of research, I learned that The Violence Action was a live-action adaptation of a manga series by the same name written by Shin Sawada and illustrated by Renji Asai.
Which looking back – absolutely makes sense.
The Violence Action Story
I should have known this movie was based on material adapted from another medium by the opening scenes and overall aesthetic vibe.
The pink-haired heroine Kikuno Kei was casually chatting in a school cafeteria with her college friend over gifted BL visual novels and doujinshi.
Epic music was playing while Kei mercilessly murdered the yakuza goons around her with ease.
A guy named Watanabe who goes to college with Kei and has a crush on her casually joins the assassination den. And then gushes over sharing an ‘indirect kiss’ with Kei after receiving a bottle of vending machine tea she drank from…the list goes on.
(Granted, Zura-san and another yakuza later admit Watanabe is not right in the head…)
To be quite honest, just the scene of two women discussing fujoshi manga alone out in public is a red flag and huge taboo in Japanese culture. It’s almost embarrassing and deemed ‘childish’ to enjoy anime and manga, or to be perceived as an Otaku.
So that alone, along with so many characters that have kinpatsu (blonde) Yankee hair and are not explicitly social rejects and ostracized should have let me know subconsciously that this was based on manga or an anime.
Daria the Sniper’s Backstory
While I enjoyed the cool and trippy quick shots scattered throughout the film and the over-the-top almost campy yakuza trope, I kind of wish we got more of Kikuno Kei’s backstory.
We learn that new recruit and star sniper Daria was kidnapped and trained by yakuza to kill after her parent’s murder. The pervy driver/handler Zura-san offers to find Daria a permanent residence and Kei realizes it’s just a concrete apartment surrounded by cold, claustrophobic walls.
Through a series of flashbacks, it is revealed that Daria was kept chained in essentially a windowless concrete box of a room and doesn’t seem to know any other life. When Kei brings Daria to an open and spacious apartment with a balcony overlooking the city, it almost seems like a weight is lifted from Daria’s shoulders.
Before the film ends, Daria manages to murder Kaneko – the man who imprisoned, mutilated, and possibly assaulted her as a child. You can actually feel the weight of his looming presence being erased from Daria’s shoulders, and she can now breathe a little easier.
Why is Kikuno Kei An Assassin?
Despite learning all of this about Daria, we fail to learn Kikuno Kei’s reason for becoming an assassin after the two are ambushed while apartment hunting. Towards the end of the film, there are hints that either Kei’s mother or a female figure close to her has passed on, encouraging her to live by holding on to a dream.
This desire to hold onto a dream is what propels Kei to keep moving forward, even when she is “too tired” to keep going. Like after receiving mortal wounds from Michitaka-kun the cleaner during their fight.
Kei had the dream of becoming a bookkeeper and was actively studying for the exam while moonlighting as an assassin on the side.
By the end of the film, we never learn if Kei actually passed the exam. Kei is seen walking through the field in her dream – teary-eyed and shooting mannequins with a gun.
Why Did Kikuno Kei Want to Become a Bookkeeper?
I’m going to be completely honest here – I have no clue as to why Kikuno Kei would actually want to become a bookkeeper. After meeting Terano on the bus one morning and developing a synergy of trust, Kei learns that his life is not all that grand.
Terano is a bookkeeper for a yakuza faction and had until recently been caring for his injured best friend and partner, Kura.
Although we never learn Terano’s backstory either, Kei does impart the importance of having a dream to him. Terano, like Daria and presumably Kei, never thought much about their life – or if they would even be alive in five years’ time.
After robbing the Sandaime blind and taking Kinoshita’s slush fund, Terano ends up faking his death and living Kura’s dream of visiting New York and eating cheesecake. Terano now has millions worth of yen that can be laundered and converted to dollars – more than enough to never again enter the line of work where he already wanted out.
Judging by Kei still being employed as a part-time assassin by the end of the film, her desire to work as a bookkeeper, and proximity to a dangerous occupation despite having a dream – I have to truly wonder what Kei wants out of life.
Especially considering Kei has been pretending to be a “pink girl” or prostitute to initiate her assassination contracts. I don’t know how she could suddenly one day decide to push papers in an ordinary Japanese business office.
Can Kei even leave a life of violence behind once she successfully passes the bookkeeping test?
Zura-san mentioned that they do their work to protect women, but who then will be there to protect Kei in her time of need?
Does Kei actually have a future outside of the Assassin Den Ramen Shop, or is the guise of living an ordinary life as a bookkeeper just a dream she deludes herself with to continue leading a truly miserable life?
Isolation in Japanese Culture
I don’t know, The Violence Action was just a very strange film to watch. Despite being visually bright and appealing, at its core, there was an unspoken sadness and bitterness in its underlying narrative.
While I do think the film is worth watching, it seems to suffer from the same sort of cultural magnifying glass all Japanese live-action media possesses that truly gets me down in the dumps.
Then again, maybe this is simply my own perception of reflected experiences I had while working at a Japanese company.
The Violence Action captured that very uniquely Japanese cultural phenomenon of feeling strangled by society and constrained to social norms even I was subjected to despite being a ‘gaijin’. It’s a feeling that even warded me off from ever wanting to live in the country for an extended period of time.
And hey – maybe that was the purpose of this film all along.
To show a group of young, twenty-something college-age students who have been dealt a bad hand in life and suffered due to societal circumstances beyond their control.
In order to make the best of a hopeless situation, they dream – hoping they live long enough to see it come true.
In a way that is terribly sad, and also very beautiful.
But, tell me your thoughts.
Have you read the manga series?
What did you think about the Netflix adaptation?
Do you have any experience living or working in a culturally restrictive environment?
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☆ In Asian Spaces