Is This Japan's Most Brutal Drama Series? | Koji's Odds & Ends



The current popularity of premium streaming services has led to a lot of fairly obscure Japanese movies getting international releases. If you look hard enough, you can find a real gem every now and then.

That was the case with me and the Ushijima the Loan Shark series. I decided to watch the first movie in the 4-part series out of mere curiosity. I already had an Amazon Prime account, so it didn’t cost me anything. If it turned out to be bad, I could just exit the app and watch something else.

I honestly wasn’t prepared for what was likely the most brutal Japanese drama series I have ever seen.

From Part 1

Covering every topic from gang violence, to black-market money lending, to gambling addiction, to sexual assault and prostitution, the 4 Ushijima movies (which are based on an award-winning manga by Shohei Manabe) span nearly the entirety of Tokyo’s seedy underworld. Our protagonists: the silent and seemingly perpetually angry mobster “Ushijima” and his band of thugs.

Just from the first 10 minutes of Part 1, which consist of Ushijima crashing a party full of Tokyo elites and brutalizing one of his clients in front of shocked onlookers, it’s clear that this isn’t a series that pulls its punches.

Initially, I was curious as to how well a series would work with such unsavory characters as its protagonists. It turns out, it works pretty well… as long as all of the other characters are actually worse. While many of Ushijima’s victims could be considered innocent or just down on their luck, most are portrayed as deadbeats or con artists. Because of this, Ushijima acts as a reaper of sorts, meting out punishment to the worst society has to offer. 

Ushijima making a collection from his client's daughter

Each of the 4 movies focuses on a different “client” of Ushijima’s. In the first, a wannabe rave organizer borrows money to cover the cost of his current project’s venue. A young entrepreneur who boasts about the large contact list stores in his many cell phones, the man tries to outsmart Ushijima in an attempt to avoid paying his ever-growing debt.

In the second part, a client-turned-employee ends up getting Ushijima involved with a hooligan named Aizawa, who leads a street gang of teenagers who commit various atrocious acts of violence as the story progresses. The third movie tackles the subject of multi-level marketing schemes, while the fourth introduces several villainous characters from Ushijima’s past: a cruel gang of brothers who run a horrific black company out in rural Japan.

Ushijima with his favorite meal

As you could probably tell, much of the series' shock value comes from the fact that it incorporates features of everyday life and shows them off in extremely unappealing ways. Aside from a few comic book-y elements here and there (it's still based on a manga, after all), much of the series remains grounded in reality, which adds a certain level of gravity that wouldn't be present in a more fantastical series.

While Ushijima is portrayed somewhat more favorably than most of the other characters, the series makes sure to never turn him into a hero. Every so often, the viewers are reminded of Ushijima’s hideous profession with scene where he forces women into prostitution or sells clients off to black companies for slave labor.

Ushijima with his private investigator, Inui, at a dagashi shop

Even still, Ushijima has his own philosophy and twisted sense of justice. When one client begins earning a lot of money through a “paid dating” agency, Ushijima remarks that when people earn money that quickly, it “eats away at their conscience.” This represents what is probably the unifying message of the series: that there is no such thing as true “easy money.”

Whether the characters truly deserve their dreadful fates or not, they all eventually learn the real value of money, and at a compound interest rate of 50% a day, Ushijima’s money is worth more than most.

Of course, if the films themselves aren’t enough to drive the “moral messages” of the series home for you, just wait for the comically long disclaimers at the end of the films, which state things like “all loan sharks are bad,” “some lawyers are bad,” and “black market lending is illegal.”

This is important to remember as well

The series is currently available on Amazon Prime for streaming if you want to check it out for yourself. If you’ve seen it already, leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

Once again, thank you all for reading!

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