by Greg Muskewitz
Not to be confused with Coline Serreau’s film of the same name, this is an involving mystery from Hideo Nakata, director of the original Ring.The film opens with a Japanese husband and wife dining at a high-end restaurant, and the wife leaving while her husband takes care of the bill. When he returns to his office, he receives a call that turns out to be demanding a random for his wife’s kidnapping. Against the perpetrator’s demands, he enlists the help of the police, but neither the money is collected nor his wife returned, while in the meantime, the kidnapper demands more ransom money from the wife’s sister. A time shuffle is made, returning to after the couple’s dining; disguised, the wife shows up to the kidnapper’s residence, paying him his fee to fake her disappearance, and proceeding to go through the meticulous details step-by-step. She is to stay at a friend of hers who’s out of town, remaining tied up to give the effect of bruises, and the scene cuts out just as the initial call is made to her husband. When the faux-kidnapper, a handyman, arrives back at the apartment, he is startled to find the woman dead, and a disguised call instructs him to dispose of the body, otherwise the police will immediately be dispatched. A few days later he sees a woman who is a dead ringer for the dead wife, only to dig the body up discovering the already decomposing corpse. We shuffle back in time again to the handyman responding to a call, fixing a burst pipe for a woman who was the same one he later assisted in the kidnapping. Something is clearly not adding up. And later, she approaches him with the initial offer for his help, claiming her husband is cheating on her, and this plan of hers is to test him. Though this is pre-Memento, the device of shuttling back-and-forth in time, hopscotch-style, is used for a different effect in this film; its many secrets and surprises are revealed only when Nakata is ready to do so, regardless of the suspicion aroused early on, and with the filmmakers taking no time out to hold the viewer’s hand in constant explanation. Nakata is the kind of director who is more interested in generating suspense and tension from the material he has available to him, and not by what he can add to it in the sense of stylistic and visual trickery. The viewer’s attention is solely wrapped up in the careful and exact revelations that unfold in the mystery, and it never loses sight in keeping a pace or two ahead at all times. (There are so many fronts flipped about at each turn, with who’s involved in what, and how, constantly reversing in front of our eyes.) This is easily a film that could be remade in Hollywood where the interest would be reassigned to playing to the viewer instead of with them. The stakes would be raised (by the touch up of the filmmakers) to show more, get away with more, and ultimately, give away more. But like Nakata first exhibited — at least in my attendance — in Ring, his concern, his strength, is to give the viewer a detective’s book’s worth of suspicions, only to take it away and replace it for the unexpected. Nothing succeeds in offering a higher payout than that. Chaos solidifies any early notions of what Nakata’s strengths were as a director, putting me on a much more aware lookout for anything else he is behind. With the strong performances of Masato Hagiwara (Cure), Miki Nakatani (Ring), and Ken Mitsuishi (Audition).[Absolutely to be seen.]
"Unraveling backwards with forward movement."
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originally posted: 02/21/04 14:27:37