The last six years of buzz and fandom hit pretty damn hard as audiences galavanted over their favorite moments of the rather male-dominated HiGH&LOW franchise. Having conquered multiple mediums right through its streaming launch on Netflix last year, imaginably it left a certain curiosity as to what a more female-centric take on gangbuster action cinema would look like.
Leave it to the creative controls of screenwriter Bakarhythm, and filmmaker Kazuaki Seki as they bring you of a world beneath the veneer of quiet, reserved female office workers – a world where OL (office lady) gangs frequently collide in their daily battles for dominance over one another. It’s a brutal, violent and rigorous responsibility, the kind that sets a person apart from the “ordinary” types who lead idyllic, mundane and modestly fulfilling lives – people like Naoko (Mei Nagano), for example.
This is the world presented in Seki’s feature directing debut, Jigoku-no-hanazono: Office Royale, an original action-comedy with no relation to any pre-existing I.P., whilst graciously observing its own whimsical energy and comic book-style allure. Such is the millieu in which Naoko places herself when meeting the office’s newest badass, Ran (Alice Hirose), whose fighting prowess and unfuckwithable no-nonsense demeanor instantly make her either the most affable and respected among OLs, or the most hated from other organizations who’ve yet to feel her wrath.
With Ran’s reputation set in place, however, her burgeoning friendship with the more modest and harmless Naoko ultimately finds itself put to the test, when Naoko gets kidnapped by the general manager of a rivaling firm, cross-dressing dragon lady Ryoko Akagi (Kenichi Endo). For Ran, in the course of all her earnest efforts to maintain herself as strong and worthy enough to be the hero she knows she can be upon arriving to Akagi’s lair, what happens next will not only put Hojo’s own self-worth and purpose into question, but also that of Naoko, in lieu of a major secret she’d hoped to never reveal.
There’s a lot that I’m choosing to leave out of this review, because I want viewers to enjoy the spoils themselves. What can be said of Jigoku-no-hanazono: Office Royale, however, is that it’s as fun, fantastic and kickass as you can expect. As an action comedy, it doesn’t hold a candle to your favorite martial arts film or action thriller – the action is a bit of tease from the start, with Seki using a good deal of cut-away shots when certain fight scenes are about to happen. A few of the hits don’t really connect either, and it’s a nitpick, but one not really worth leaning too hard into since there’s plenty more improvements as the minutes pass.
The good news is that with most of the action obscured in some parts, it allows for the audience to focus more on the characters as we meet them in the process, with a line-up colorful and puerile enough to warrant your attention as the plot unfolds, especially between Naoko and Ran, but when the action hits, it hits hard with pure spectacle and glory. There’s even a new character reveal within the film’s second half, which kind of ties together the tone of the action, as well as one of our key characters.
Beneath it all though, with Seki’s Jigoku-no-hanazono: Office Royale, there’s a slightly more subersive undertone beyond its toppling of the more patriarchal prominence of films like these. One might even say there’s is much more perspicious and clear message to observe here, using gangland femme-fatale salarywomen as an allegory for self-discovery amidst an overly-competitive work environment. Or something. I don’t know…
All I know is that by the end of this movie, someone gets a boyfriend, and it’s an ironic, duskily hilarious, and fitting end for a movie born from such an original and self-nourishing concept. Whether this film is a one-and-done or the birth of a new action comedy saga, Jigoku-no-hanazono: Office Royale will amuse and thrill you at nearly every turn.