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Golden Slumber (Goruden Suramba)
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by Jay Seaver

"This is no lullaby; it's running time!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Fish Story" may not have set the Japanese box office on fire, but the folks who saw it loved it, so it's no wonder that director Yoshihiro Nakamura chose another Kotaro Isaka novel (with a musical title) as one of his next projects. And it's got another killer hook, one that it gets a lot more mileage out of than other thrillers.

Start with Masaharu Aoyagi (Masata Sakai); when he was in college, he and his friends Shingo Morita (Hidetaka Yoshioka), Kazuo Ono (Hitori Gekidan), and Haruko Higuchi (Yuka Takeuchi) hung out, critiqued fast food, and traded conspiracy theories. Ten years later, he's a deliveryman, although one who gained a certain amount of fame two years earlier for rescuing pop idol Rinka (Shihori Kanjiya) from a burglar. It looks like Morita is doing much better for himself, but when Aoyagi awakes after passing out in Mortia's car, his old friend tells him that he's up to his eyeballs in gambling debt, but it would be wiped clean if he makes sure Aoyagi is in this car at this time. Why? Well, the Prime Minister's motorcade is about to pass by; Morita thinks Aoyagi is being set up as a patsy, like Lee Harvey Oswald. Which is ridiculous--


Nakamura and company set this situation up in a crisp, efficient opening that establishes Aoyagi's dorky, blue-collar charm, and then literally explodes into high gear. After that, the chase is on, and though Golden Slumber hasn't really had a chance to build, it manages to sustain itself at a remarkably high energy and tension level for a long time. It's probably something like an hour after before that initial jolt starts to wane, and by then the story has started throwing not just twists but counter-twists, giving us a very well-played game of cat and mouse.

Hitchcock would be proud. Sure, people say that about every half-decent suspense thriller, but Golden Slumbers plays a lot of the songs in the Hitch playbook that many people overlook: Aside from the continuing, mounting suspense, Sakai is working James Stewart in his everyman on the run mode, and then there's the piece that is always forgotten by people who haven't seen very many Hitchcock films - the sense of humor that combines nasty events with droll whimsy. This movie has both a character that can be best described as a helpful serial killer (Gaku Hamada's "Kill-O") and an awesomely cute little girl (Akira Kitamura's Hanami), and there's a running joke about how, when people ask Aoyagi if he "did it", they're just as likely to be referring to hooking up with the starlet two years ago as assassinating the prime minister.

Like a number of twenty-first century Japanese films, Golden Slumber carries a large ensemble with a number of complex relations, requiring the cast to be on their toes. Fortunately, they are - Sakai, for instance, is an affable lead, a guy with whom the audience can easily identify, and who we can buy as thinking quickly on his feet but maybe not quite possessed of the cunning needed to turn the tables on his pursuers. Fortunately, he has friends for that, notably Yuko Takeuchi as his old girlfriend, who is smart and quick-witted even as she is in over her head. Like the rest of the old gang, we get to see Haruko both in the present and in flashback, and Takeuchi is a different kind of appealing in each. Gaku Hamada, meanwhile, is giving a manic performance as a self-aware but still barking nuts serial killer, while Teruyuki Kagawa plays Ichitaro Sasaki, the cop in charge of hunting down Aoyagi, with enough intensity it's sometimes hard to decide whether he's an outright villain or a very committed cop. And there are probably a dozen other notable characters with highly entertaining performances behind them.

Movies with stories and casts that big are under constant threat of collapsing under their own weight, and Golden Slumber does struggle to avoid that fate in its last act, not always successfully. I don't mind that large sections of the conspiracy theory are not filled in; it's appropriate for a story that references the Kennedy assassination so directly. But this is a long movie (139 minutes) made from a what is evidently an even more complexly structured book, and it sometimes seems that in order to fit everything in, Nakamura and co-screenwriter Tamio Hayashi have to either introduce elements right before they are used or make Aoyagi a reactive character. Again, it's hard to complain when that gets us moments as great as the fireworks bit or if we accept that the strength of the heroes is the trust, affection, and sheer goodness that leads them to pitch in without even being asked, but it does lead to moments when it seems everybody except Aoyagi is driving the plot, and a little fatigue as the movie makes its way down the home stretch.

Just a little, though - for the most part, "Golden Slumber" is a fun, fast-paced roller coaster that sustains a high level of energy for much longer that is typical, and ends with a series of bangs that do justice to the ones that kicked it off.

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originally posted: 07/19/10 16:12:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2010 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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