© 2001 Yasuomi Umetsu / Green Bunny
Mezzo Forte: Director's Cut
What do you do if you're the owner of a baseball team and your star pitcher is under-performing? Trade him? Demote him? Fire him? Nah, just pummel him to death (and with a baseball bat, no less; oh, the irony!). This is the solution of Momokichi Momoi, the mobster antagonist of Yasuomi Umetsu's Mezzo Forte. Bad blood must run in the family, for his daughter, Moname, shares his violent demeanor and flippant attitude about the consequences. The two make a perfect pair of villains for Umetsu's latest action-thriller.
When you're a big cheese (especially one as rich as Momoi) you become a target. Enter our protagonists, three freelancers for hire, willing to do anything to make a buck. Mikura is the impetuous female of the group, handy enough with firearms to make John Woo swoon and not afraid to go at it hand-to-hand, either. Harada is more laid-back, with a punk look contrasting his genius mechanical skills. Mr. Kurokawa ("Mr. K") is the older, paternal father-figure of the two, who stands by in his trusty mini to bail Mikura and Harada out of whatever trouble they land in. After a failed attempt at dealing a "love doll" (a very realistic sex android), they are approached by a short, old guy named Mr. Amoko. Amoko wants Momoi, alive, and our trio of anti-heroes are given the task. The only catch is how to snatch Momoi from his cadre of bodyguards.
Mezzo Forte takes place in a bizarre "future-present". Technology has advanced far enough to produce extremely like-life androids, yet Kurokawa still drives a four-cylinder mini. Firearms are quite traditional, with a noticeable absence of the Fisher Price pistols from Kite (almost absent, mind you: Sawa's gun, along with Sawa herself make brief, but noticeable cameos). The mixed technology allows Umetsu to keep the series grounded in a reality audiences can identify with, yet gives him the flexibility to use creative technologies when needed.
Much like Kite, Mezzo Forte features incredibly stylish and inventive action sequences. While some fans were put off by the almost ridiculous nature of Umetsu's action scenes in Kite, I applauded his creativity, and I applaud it again in Mezzo Forte. Take, for example, the sequence in the bowling alley, which features truly excellent action choreography. The fight begins with Mikura and Harada dragging Momoi's body through the rafters over the alley. They are interrupted after Momoi's ring slips off his finger, down a vent, and onto to the head of one of his bodyguards (a rather implausible event, but I digress). The bodyguard makes his way into the rafters and intercepts Mikura and Harada. After a brief scuffle, Mikura fills the bodyguard with lead, before all four of them crash through the ceiling and into the middle of a bowling alley (much to the surprise of the bowlers). More of Momoi's thugs, along with Moname, are bewildered for half a second, before everyone pulls out a gun and chaos ensues. Bullets and debris ricochet off the surrounding obstacles and explosions cast bodies into and through walls, all in a glorious symphony of destruction. After a brief shootout, Kurokawa comes to Mikura and Harada's rescue. He must have gotten his car from the same manufacture as Lupin III, since his gravity-defying auto manages to go through a window, across the bowling lanes, then out another window, and into a culvert. Through it all, the viewer is kept immersed thanks to some excellent camera angles, silky-smooth animation, and good sound effects.
There are a couple knocks against Mezzo Forte, and they're big ones. While the story setup is solid, if somewhat unoriginal, the plot takes a nose dive in the second episode. Certain plot elements, such as Mikura and Moname's similarities, are forgotten, while very convenient plot devices are used to wrap things up. The ending feels rushed, and the conclusion lacks any dramatic punch. While the voice acting is good, the English script also gets quite repetitive after a short while. Catch phrases are used one too many times, and Mikura's utterances of "baldy" and "old man" sounded like a single sound bite played ad nauseum.
My final gripe regards the graphic sexual content. Like Kite, Mezzo Forte is available as an edited version or an uncut "director's cut" version. There is only about five minutes of sex in the film, but it is graphic. Every detail in the two scenes is rendered in loving detail and nothing is left to the imagination. The sex scenes are quite jarring, because while the rest of the content is definitely not kiddie fare, the nature of the series doesn't lend itself well to smut. Imagine splicing in five minutes of porn footage during Beverly Hills Cop and you'll get the idea.
Mezzo Forte: Director's Cut starts out quite well, but a muddled plot during the second half and gratuitous, unnecessary sex scenes take away from the viewing experience. Fans of Umetsu's other work will probably want to check it out, but I'd recommend the edited version over this uncut one.
The Verdict: * * * (average)
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