Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina, Jun Kunimura, Tetsu Sawaki
The version being reviewed is unrated. For the record, the theatrical cut is rated R for Violence/Torture and Sexuality
For those of you who think that critics hate all the movies in the multiplex and only like those snooty, abstract neo-whatever foreign films, well, you're wrong. There are movies in both categories that are excellent (take for example "Avatar" and "Farewell, My Concubine." Or "The Dark Knight," for those readers who are convinced that I have some sort of bias against superhero movies by nature (I don't. Just the bad ones). By the same token, there are movies in both categories that are unmitigated crap. "Split" and "Audition" belong in there, although I'm forced to admit that the Japanese cult horror flick is less painful to sit through. Or should I say, slightly less painful.
After his wife died seven years ago, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ishibashi) has raised his son Shigehiko (Sawaki) by himself, growing his own business to pay the bills. But Shigehiko senses his father's loneliness and encourages him to remarry. Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Kunimura), Shigeharu's friend in the movie business, suggest that he use an upcoming audition for a movie as a way to find a new wife. While looking over the hopefuls, one catches his eye: Asami Yamazaki (Shiina). Her resume touches him, and when she appears, she's everything he's hoped for: polite, quiet, pretty and intelligent. If he had ever seen a movie he'd know that those are the ones you have to watch out for. But despite the misgivings of Yasuhisa, he becomes hopelessly smitten. They begin to date and he plans to ask her to marry him on their upcoming getaway. But the next morning (after seducing him, no less), she has disappeared. His friend tells him to forget her, but he is obsessed and tries to track her down. He'll wish he hadn't.
I'm not bashing the movie for its unprofessional film quality (not that it helps), its graphic violence (which is only occasionally squirm-inducing) or its sleazy set-up (that comes with the territory). What I am criticizing it for is being so goddamn boring! A movie like this is supposed to put us on the edge of our seats. This one nearly put me to sleep.
Director Takashi Miike violates all the basic rules of storytelling. The characters are not interesting because they are not sharply drawn, the plot never gains any momentum, and the editing is done with a hatchet. Further, Miike tries to get abstract with his final act. In addition to being cliché, it isn't well done. Miike obviously wants his film to end both ways, which is of course a cheat.
The actors aren't given any favors from Miike or the pedestrian script, but they do what they can. Japanese A-lister Ryo Ishibashi does what he can, but it's a losing battle. He's given very little to work with but somehow manages to successfully create a sympathetic everyman. He has my sincerest congratulations. Eihi Shiina plays the part of the subservient Japanese woman cliché, only to turn around and become a real sadist. It's a good performance, but it's all for naught because I just didn't care.
Trust me, if you're looking for a "stranger from hell" thriller, there are much better choices. Much better. Leave this one to the cult movie lovers to boast that they "got" it. There's nothing to "get" here. Just boredom.