HIGH & LOW 2: END OF SKY Review: Sad Goodbyes, Sinister Plot Twists And Blockbuster Action Mark The Beginning Of The End
Following his solo turn at the helm for High & Low: The Movie, the aftermath of Yudai Yamaguchi’s High & Low: The Red Rain now brings our attention to the latest of major final chapters of the High & Low film saga. It’s understandable if you feel like things have hit a fever pitch too, especially if you’ve seen both seasons of the NTV and Hulu dramas that pre-empt the current film saga from LDH Pictures and Shochiku. Still, it bares noting the freshness and practicality with which these films have been treated in bringing this contemporary Japanese gangland action cineverse to life, with none other than some of J-pop’s brightest stars composing most of the roster.
In High & Low 2: End Of Sky, things are heating up even more in the district of S.W.O.R.D., with the emergence of outside gangs looking to muscle their way in amid the fallout at the Bayside area where Ice (Elly) and the Mighty Warriors fell, as did Doubt, and its tentative leader, Kohaku (Exile Akira). The Nine-Dragon conglomerate, otherwise known as Kuryu Group, is on the verge of collapse now that proof of their corporate meddling and malfeasance is in the wind thanks to the efforts of the elusive and rebellious Amamiya Brothers, Masaki (Takahiro) and Hiroto (Hiroomi Tosaka). To solidify the district’s defenses, Cobra (Takanori Iwata), leader of the Sannoh Hoodlum Squad, proposes an alliance between all five neigboring gangs of S.W.O.R.D. to protect their district.
Just short of a unanimous vote despite backing for Cobra from Oya High School’s leader, Murayama (Yuki Yamada), White Rascals leader, Rocky (Keiji) is the first to walk away, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone in the room then but him, leaving Daruma Ikka boss, Norihisu Hyuga (Kento Hayashi) and the Rude Boys of Nameless City to delegate among themselves. Meanwhile, the Amamiyas have a new battle to face upon reuniting with Kohaku, and Tsukumo (Sho Aoyagi), when Kuryu’s Kurosaki faction leader employs its top commander, Genji (Tatara Samurai co-star Naoki Kobayashi), to infiltrate the brothers and steal the USB at any cost before its incriminating contents are made public. With the fate of S.W.O.R.D. now up in the air, the Kuryu have also contracted the early releases of two of the toughest prisoners from their respective facilities: Prison Gang leader Jesse (Naoto), who aligns with the Mighty Warriors in reuinion with longtime friend, Ice, and Rocky’s most notorious rival, Ranmaru (Aoi Nakamaru), whose reckless abandon crowns his overall infamy as the leader of Doubt.
Not everything culminates just yet in High & Low 2: End Of Sky, with so many moving pieces still in play, and questions still need answering. The final moments of the film and the middle and post-credits sequences will leave you plentily agog right then, though the addition of brief backstory between some of the new characters certainly adds to the excitement in a film space that manages to avoid overcrowding, while balancing so many characters – all developed in their own way to the benefit of the story; The film introduces Mandy Sekiguchi as Pho, Jesse’s hulking prison gang cohort, whose own backstory sees him landing in prison while trying to rescue children from being taken from his tenement building. His loyalty to Jesse makes him an otherwise welcome addition to the Mighty Warriors, something which illustrates perfectly the complexity and nuance of ganglife for once good people.
The same also gets explored with franchise character favorites Dan (Kenjiro Yamashita), Tettsu (Kanta Sato) and Chiharu (Taiki Sato) from the Sannoh Hoodlum Squad, who’ve all begun feeling the pinch from the economic strain caused by their rivalry with Kuryu, leaving them second-guessing if the fight is truly worth it, despite all matters pertinent to taking down Kuryu and all the mafia families therein to save their district. Their recusal is a costly move for Cobra who not only understands why Rocky won’t commit to an alliance, but also knows what the right thing is in his heart to do.
Actor Masataka Kubota’s screentime lessens here a little more in this film for the role of Smokey, leader of Nameless City’s Rude Boys – a reasonable considering Smokey’s declining health as explained in the first few films – leaving the gang’s second-in-command lieutenants, Takeshi (Reo Sano), P (Zen) and Yu (Gaku Sano) to delegate in his place, and of course, fight on the frontlines. What remains to be seen is what will happen to Smokey in the next film given the mid-credits scene, which hints at an incredible nightmare scenario for plot twist: bodies stacked on one another and strung up, demolition trucks destroying the districts and setting buildings ablaze, and shots of the Kuryu bosses smiling as if they won, and that’s not all that occurs as the credits roll.
The increasing size and scale of the action in this installment speaks even further to the comprehensive size and scale, between the gangland fisticuffs and high-flying traceur action, to the explosive car and motorcycle chase scenes, with Kobayashi’s lighting fast and super-tough Genji adding to the danger every step of the way for the film’s action centerpieces. The key ingredient here, of course, is the quintessential fight action on which this film is based, and it’s about as entertaining as everything else has been thusfar, specifically thanks to quality cinematography, which, while handheld and edited to a certain pace, always makes sure not to pull a “Greengrass” or a “Delamarre” on you in the process (I might dive a little more into what I mean by this in a future piece). The action also reassures with a dose of comedic wit for its running gag of villains who speak English, namely between Sannoh lieutenant Yamada (Nobuyuki Suzuki), and knife-wielding Prison Gang member Brown (Joey Inagawa – Dancing Karate Kid, Red Blade, Demekin, Samurai Marathon).
The foremost interesting question, however, is what will immediately happen in the next film; The battle lines are officially drawn in the aftermath of the final battle, ensuing a climatic confrontation between Cobra, and Kuryu stakeholder and crime boss, Yoshitatsu Zenshin – played brilliantly by actor Goro Kishitani – who gets in a few cheap shots of his own in seething screen villainy. He’s joined by a number of phenomenal thespians all playing respective Kuryu members, including reprisals by actors Tatsuya Nakamura and Taichi Saotome, as well as Masaya Kato, best known for some amazing career titles like the martial arts-fueled Drive, Beat Takeshi’s yakuza drama, Brother, Yang Yun-ho’s Fighter In The Wind, Yuji Shimomura’s Re:Born, and Shinsuke Sato’s Kingdom.
Essentially, High & Low 2: End Of Sky is where all the cards are dealt and the stakes are higher than ever, which fittingly makes pregaming for High & Low 3: Final Mission, even more exciting, and after a week of putting it off due to festival obligations, tune into our home page this week when that review goes up.
Click here for previous coverage and reviews of the High & Low movies, now playing exclusively on Netflix.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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