ADRENALINE DRIVE is one of the first movies I watched when I was initially getting into Japanese film. Back in 2000, VHS still reigned supreme and it was pretty difficult to get your hands on Japanese movies in Colorado. Upon realizing that I had exhausted most of the sci-fi movie selection at the local Hollywood Video (remember when people used to RENT movies from STORES???), I stumbled upon a VHS copy of ADRENALINE DRIVE. Up to that point, I had really only watched jidai-geki style samurai movies, so my 12 year old brain was pretty interested in seeing a ‘normal’ Japanese movie. Though I bought it on a whim, ADRENALINE DRIVE turned out to be a ridiculously fun parody of yakuza caper films.
The movie opens with Suzuki (Ando Masanobu), a spineless rental car clerk, accidentally rear ending a car full of yakuza. Always ready to exploit the situation, the yakuza force Suzuki to visit their office and settle the debt. After an uncomfortable moment with the yakuza leader Kuroiwa (Matsushige Yutaka), Suzuki is let off the hook when a gas explosion destroys the office. Hearing the blast, an off-duty nurse Shizuko (Ishida Hikari) rushes into the building to help. Seeing the dead yakuza, Suzuki and Shizuko leave with a case full of blood-soaked cash. However, a badly injured Kuroiwa knows their identities and, now bed-ridden in the hospital, sends a group of low-level chinpira after them to retrieve the stolen money. Now on the run from the yakuza, ADRENALINE DRIVE is about the bizarre misadventures the unlikely pair experience.
Obviously, the ‘take the money and run’ premise of ADRENALINE DRIVE is overdone. However, Suzuki and Shizuko make such a timid and hapless team that it’s impossible not to find their efforts endearing. Meanwhile, the chinpira chasing them (played by comedy group Jovi Jova) are inept to the point that it becomes difficult to consider them a serious threat. What makes ADRENALINE DRIVE enjoyable is writer/director Yaguchi Shinobu’s recognize the obvious clichés in this genre and then give the audience something unexpected. As a result, the entire film is whimsical and very tongue-in-cheek. Most interesting, perhaps, is how Yaguchi injects the mundane into the film’s plot points. When Suzuki is brought to the yakuza headquarters, the yakuza leader stands up and begins unbuckling his belt. Of course, this makes the audience suspect that something horrible is about to happen to Suzuki, but the man is merely untucking his shirt. Rather than the headquarters being destroy in a gun fight, the simple act of making tea on a stove with a gas leak destroys the building. Later, because the money is covered in blood, the duo decides to ‘launder’ it – literally, in washing machines.
ADRENALINE DRIVE isn’t an art house movie and it certainly it’s particularly deep. It’s just the cinematic equivalent of candy and a fun flick to watch on a rainy day.