Monday, June 23, 2008

REVIEW: Chaos - Hideo Nakata (1999)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

A man, Komiyama, and his wife, Saori (Miki Nakatani), are finishing up lunch at a posh restaurant. As Komiyama settles the bill Saori walks out to the parking lot. Just a moment later Komiyama follows, but finds that his wife has disappeared. Upon returning to his office he receives a phone call from a man who claims to have kidnapped Saori. A ransom is demanded and the police are called in to investigate. The usual cat and mouse scenario starts to play out, but wait…

We flash back and Saori, dressed in light summer clothes, drives up to a repairman’s house and knocks on the door. The repairman, Kuroda, doesn’t seem to know her, but Saori knows him. She tells him that she’s just come from having lunch with her husband then hands him an envelope containing 500,000 yen to pay for her own kidnapping. Saori explains that she’s house sitting a friend’s apartment for a week, her husband doesn’t know, so it will be the perfect place for her to hide while Kuroda forces ransom from Komiyama. Kuroda seems reluctant though. He doesn’t want to get caught, so he makes a string of demands to make Saori’s kidnapping seem more real: she cannot bathe, cannot turn on the lights in the apartment, and she must be tied up in order to leave rope burn on her wrists and ankles. It seems like they have it all worked out until Kuroda returns a couple nights later to find Saori dead. How could this have happened? As if on cue the phone rings and a man with an ominous computerized voice tells Kuroda that he killed Saori by accident and that if Kuroda didn’t dispose of the body he’d call the police on him.

At this point you must be wondering why I’m giving so much of the plot away, but let me assure you that this is only the beginning of the twists and turns to be found in Hideo Nakata’s 1999 film “Chaos”. Based on a mystery novel by Shōgo Utano the story of the kidnapping of Saori Komiyama is constantly shifting so much so that if you take your eyes off the screen you may miss one of the many crucial plot points that are meted out right up until the last few scenes. In this regard the film is a phenomenal success, providing a real puzzle for us viewers.

The one drawback to “Chaos” for me though was that it reminded me of one of those novels that you pick up at the drug store that sacrifice interesting use of language and fleshed out characters all in favour of delivering a gimmicky plot. These books make a long plane ride or a lazy Sunday at home zip by, but once the ride is over it’s over and there’s little reason to crack the spine on it again.

“Chaos” could have been a true masterpiece had the performances been more than just functional and the lack of budget showed in almost every frame. It’s these short comings that to me endanger “Chaos” of suffering the same fate as Nakata’s other films “Ring” and “Dark Water” which were turned into lukewarm Hollywood remakes. Could a director with a great cast and a keen visual sense accomplish what Nakata didn’t and deliver a truly great film? Yes, but is that any reason for you not to seek out “Chaos”? Not at all. There’s still a highly compelling mystery here and even if Hollywood comes knocking one day there’s no guarantee to say they’ll get it right.

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