Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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LEE SANG-IL: RAGE (2016) - NYAFF

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People need people; unfortunately people also kill people

This film, the director's second based on a Shuichi Yoshida novel like his 2010 Villain, also a crime-aftermath tale, starts out with a gruesome crime scene, but turns out not to be a gripping police procedural but something else. It is three stories intercut, involving three young men who turn up without clear pasts, making them (somehow) suspects in the murder, which occurred two years ago. As it turns out, the two innocent men are the ones most suspected, and by those to whom they've become near and dear. Much repentance follows. And midway, there is a terrible event: the rape of a pretty young woman, related, but only indirectly, to one of the three mystery men, by American soldiers in Naha, the capital of Okinawa.

So the story has a lot to say, but about what? Perhaps how hard it is to trust other people, and how much we need to be trusted. But the unfolding of Lee Sang-il's richly told but overwrought tale is one that involves frequent, and constant intercutting of scenes and shots in the adept editing of Tsuyoshi Imai. Naturally, Lee oscillates between the stories of Tashiro (Kenichi Matsuyama), a distant fellow whom a traumatized girl, Aiko (Aoi Miyazaki) takes up with; Naoto (Go Ayano), a shy gay man of mysterious origins in his late twenties taken home and turned into a lover by the semi-closeted successful Tokyo guy Yuma (Satoshi Tsumabuki, winner of Japan Academy's Best Supporting award); and the scruffy backpacker Tanaka (Mirai Moriyama), who a couple of teenagers, Izumi (Suzu Hirose) and Tatsuya (Takara Sakumoto, winner of Japan Academy's Newcomer of the Year) find camping on the sly in an abandoned Okinawa bunker and befriend. When you know that Ken Watanabe plays Yohei, the troubled father of Aiko, you'll understand that the casting is careful and the acting is serious and first rate.

But while there are scenes at the police station, the investigation is in the background, so it's only through a rumble of general news that we learn that the nationwide manhunt has resulted at last in identification of a prime suspect: a man called Kazuya Yamagumi. It's in the nature of the story structure that we assume it's probably one of the three whose stories we've been watching, under a different name, and perhaps using other disguises.

When Aiko took up with Tashiro, Yohei, her father was the doubtful one. Yuma has discovered more courage and feeling through the rather strange, but sweet Naoto. He dares to take Naoto to meet his dying mother in hospice, and the unemployed, seemingly "lazy" Naoto spends more time with her than Yuma can. Naoto is apparently Yuma's first gay love, and causes him to chill and cut down on the bar, dance, bath scene. But Naoto has secrets and lies, and Yuma still feels distrust.

The Okinawa rape has a devastating effect not only on on Izumi, but Tatsuya and Tanaka. The turbulence of the two guys' relationship however, is mysterious. And while we are admirably kept guessing up to nearly the end - the purpose of the whole story structure, somehow one feels unsatisfied at the end, even when the real Kazuya Yamagumi has been identified. Something about the whole elaborate structure seems factitious. We needed more of the old crime story stuff, if not identification of a wrongdoer to follow, at least more details of the police investigation. Dennis Harvey, of Variety, thinks this is all about "the universal thirst for connection and trust," and in a way it is. But what's a murder mystery got to do with that? Harvey also thinks the movie "collapses into a last-act puddle of bathos." Indeed there is a tremendous outpouring of emotion from all the remaining main players in the three stories. A lot of the crying is because they really had nothing to do with the initial tale used to link them together. A lot of good acting, elaborate editing, and music by Ryuichi Sakamoto cannot make up for the artificiality of the tripartite narrative. There's a lot of good stuff here, but I felt it was used to make me uneasy more than to enlighten me.

Rage (Ikari - 怒り), 142 mins., debuted 10 Dec. 2016 at Tokyo, also showing at San Sebastián, Sydney, and Edinburgh. Reviewed here as part of the 2017 NYAFF. It showed 5 July 2017 at the Walter Reade Theater.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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