I’ve always wondered if the Comedy Of The Absurd is a criticism of the human condition: Life is a series of accidents that veer towards a pointless milieu of pain, frustration, and disappointment– with death as a subpar release of this lifetime of tragedy. The only real escape is to laugh at its absurdity. By the way, this is not a review of Todd Philips’ Joker but of Hardcore, a dark comedy from Japan.
Ukon is a man displaced by time: he is old-fashioned, who lives by his own code, and never gets the ladies. Sakon– who bails Ukon out at any sign of trouble– is Ukon’s younger brother and exact opposite: Cool, successful, and understands the paradox of reality. With no real means of income, Ukon becomes employed by a radical politician to find lost shogun treasure in order to fund his campaign to “re-educate the lost masses”. With a motley crew of misfits: Ushiyama, a homeless simpleton, and Robo, an outdated Asimovian automatron lost in post-bubble Japan– they go through their absurd adventures fitting in in a world that doesn’t want them.
Hardcore is a film that works subliminally. While watching the film, I felt an urge to write a scathing review about the film being absurd for absurdity’s sake and to excuse its chauvinistic themes. However, given time to percolate (and about three hours of sleep), I felt that the film follows Ukon’s perspective to the letter. Ukon follows a worldview that of an honorable ronin: he wants to do good at the expense of his personal desires– comfort, companionship, and conformity. Sadly with this feudalistic worldview, he sees women as property and respect has to be won by combat. I feel that the filmmaker escalates the absurdity from one outrageous scene to the next to highlight that lack of fit– and as an audience, we’re meant to feel uncomfortable because what transpires is the irony of a tragic hero in a comedy. Ukon is a failed pragmatist (while his brother if he lived in Ukon’s world, would suffer the same fate), his means are impractical and his ends are unrealistic. In a way, Hardcore really is a film that harkens back to old school samurai period pieces if they’re set in today’s world. In all of its absurdity, that’s the notion that makes the most sense.
Vincent Ternida is an emerging author whose pieces have appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Dark Helix Press, and was longlisted for CBC Short Story Prize in 2019. Ternida’s first novella, The Seven Muses of Harry Salcedo, was published by Asian Canadian Writer’s Workshop. He currently has a collection of short stories in development. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.