Based upon the manga by Hisao Mali, Silver centres around the exploits of Jun Shirogane (Shinobu Kandori), a karate expert and undercover police officer who conventionally has also undergone FBI training in the US. After her family who worked for the Secret Service are brutally murdered, she agrees to infiltrate a group of criminals known as the ‘Viper’s Nest’. The fact that she is also a karate expert gives her an upper hand in the seedy world of wresting that she has to inhabit in order to mete out justice to her family’s killers, adopting the name of ‘Silver’ as her wresting alter-ego and undercover moniker. Standing in her way, is the beautiful but dangerous, Nancy, a dominatrix and part of the powerful Otsunami yakuza family. Will ‘Silver’ manage to escape the sadistic attentions of Nancy, who is and I quote ‘the most powerful and stimulating woman of her generation’ and take her revenge, or will she become just another masochistic plaything for deadly femme fatale? Does anyone care?
Let me start by saying, the film makes no sense at all, it is a WTF movie –truly one of the most random films I have ever seen. I have no idea why Shirogane/Silver, whose ex-lover and fellow officer acts as her agent in the world of Pro-wrestling, needed to become a wrestler in order to infiltrate the ‘Viper’s Nest’, or indeed why she seems to become telepathic towards the end of the film. Gratuitous scenes of female nudity and a plethora of panty shots – why does Shirogane/Silver decide that it is best to fight 004 (a hired killer who is responsible for her family’s death and is now after her) in a very short and tight skirt? – suggest that this film is solely directed towards the male spectator, and indeed a masochistic, festishistic spectator at that. Scenes of urine drinking, flagellation (including a random scene of a man tied to a cross being painfully whipped about the penis), and mutilation form part of a visual aesthetics of domination and submission – pixilation aplenty here.
It is possible to see the masochistic male body as a metaphor for Japan as nation here, especially given the frequent philosophical mediations on the nature of humanity, the need for revenge and the need to sacrifice oneself in order to restore harmony. While interesting, it does not redeem Silver from being an incoherent mess to put it mildly.
Miike is one of Japan’s most prolific filmmakers, a visual maestro who has directed some of the best films of the last twenty years including Audition (1999) and Ichi The Killer (2001). For me, Miike is one of the most exciting contemporary directors – his work may be challenging but his extraordinary sense of visual style and flair arguably redeems even his most exploitative work.
Silver however is one of the more forgettable films in his oeuvre although Miike’s signature of extreme mangaesque violence and sexual sadism means that the film is never boring, even if it is totally impenetrable and there is no coherent continuity between scenes. For example, one of the more interesting scenes is of a Frankensteinian monster whose flesh has fused with weaponry gunning down Shirogane’s/Silver’s family at the beginning of the film, but then he disappears into the cinematic ether never to be seen again. The ending of the film with Shirogane/Silver having defeated 004 – who I need to point out is full of respect for his adversary’s skills meaning that it is difficult to interpret Silver as a misogynistic (of which Miike has been accused on more than one occasion) – under attack by an unseen female leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. It is clear that Silver has envisaged as a beginning of a series which never happened, perhaps thankfully.
It is a difficult film to recommend and perhaps one for Miike’ completists or [male] festishists only, although I suspect both will be underwhelmed and disappointed.
Silver (Shirubaa) (1999) – CAT III