With a title like “Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl” (they mean Peach Bottom), it would be easy to wipe this film to one side like a Rodríguez kids flick, but you would be doing yourself a huge injustice if you failed to see this amazing little gem of violence, style, off the wall humor and a sprinkling of romance to top things off.
How deftly the director, Katsuhito Ishii, mixes outrageous flamboyancy and subtly dark comedy is evident in the first few minutes alone, with the break-neck introductory credits, which see the main characters lined up for a stylish photo-shoot, with their weapon wielding doodle-like doubles (from Minetaro Mochizuki’s manga on which the film is based) parading in the background. After this bombardment of loud music, quick edits and bright lights, we are brought to a car in the darkness of rural Japan, where four of the thugs we just saw assaulting the camera, sit somberly and talk about the troubles of having a jailbird father, and where they thought tattoos really came from when they were kids.
With the attention drawn to these characters at the film’s opening, you may be surprised as to how quickly they are wiped out; as they chase the deadly, sneaky and evidently light-fingered Samehada (鮫肌/Sharkskin played by Tadanobu Asano); a former worker for “the organization” who has pilfered a wad of cash and gone on the run from his former associates. As Samehada is being chased down, wearing little besides boots, tighty-whities and a smile, he runs into Momojiri (桃尻/Peach Butt, played by the beautiful Sei Kohinata), who in turn runs her dump of a truck into the yakuza car trying to splatter Samehada.
Momojiri also has her own list of reasons to run away, as she lives a suffocating life under her creepy uncle, who doesn’t so much watch over her, but leers at her. With a lifetime of savings stolen, a job she hates and an uncle she fears, Momojiri wakes in her car after her crash and seems rather optimistic with the near naked crook driving her into the wilderness.
From here, the couple will face up against the elite of the organization’s crew, as well as a simple minded and oddly adorable amateur assassin, Yamada, who has been hired by Momojiri’s uncle to kill her new man and bring her back “home.” Although some may like how the film whips forward in jerks and never leaves you bored, a little more time given to the henchmen and their unique skills wouldn’t have gone amiss, it seems Yamada is the only one who really gets any real screen time, which is a shame as there is some real potential in the slow witted, bat swinging Inu (Dog), the knife-throwing Tanuki (Racoon) and the burly Boba.
The romance that sparks between our runaways is also a little difficult to get invested in, as we aren’t given much time to see it bloom, but with Sei Kohinata’s smile, it is easy to see why Samahada would risk life and broken limbs to save her. The cartoon violence, deadpan humor and undeniable style of the film is sure to win over most viewers, even those with a hatred for violence and blood should find the convoluted message of love, friendship and honor reassuring, even if nothing is resolved when the credits role. You may finish the film a little confused, but definitely not disappointed, as the film seems both retro and crisply fresh, even nearly 20 years after it was first released.