Friday, October 31, 2008

REVIEW: X-Cross - Kenta Fukasaku (2007)

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

When Kinji Fukasaku died, I can’t imagine it was an easy transition for Kenta Fukasaku from writer to director. Sure he’d written "Battle Royale", and the sequel which he ended up directing, but it was apparent that guided by his father’s hand, Kenta’s words where shaped into brutally subtle brilliance, and when guided by his own, his words where blunt instruments, swinging wild, like a feral beast. "Battle Royale" was both beautiful and disturbing, often at the same time. "Battle Royale 2" was melodramatic and incredibly heavy-handed. Kenta’s follow up films further confirmed that he wasn’t even half the director his father was. Really, the comparison isn’t fair. His father was a colossal cinematic figure, who changed the face of Japanese film. How can you really try and compare to a man whose life was so consumed by film that even when dying of cancer, he pushed forward, focused and completely undeterred. Somewhere after his third film however, Kenta must have found his voice, or got his grove on, because it seems he finally figured out how to make a good film.

Shiyori (pianist Nao Matsushita) is staying at an isolated mountain resort with her best friend Aiko (pop star Ami Suzuki). Sure the people that run the resort are a little weird, in a backwoods, "Deliverance" kind of way, and sure the road to the resort was dotted with bizarre looking, crucified scarecrows, but the resort itself is. However the peaceful retreat is suddenly disturbed when a mysterious phone rings. Shiyori tracks it down to the closet in her bedroom and quickly answers. “Get out of there! They’ll cut off your legs!” Unsure of who she is talking to and who they are referring to, Shiyori is unsure how to respond. That is until a series of bangs start rattling the front door, and a mob of torch wielding folk start hunting her down. Then in an instant, we are hurtled back in time, and find ourselves watching Shiyori and Aiko on their way to the resort, discussing Shiyori’s recent break-up with her boyfriend. From that point on, using cell phones as a brilliant narrative device, we jump back and forth in time, switching from Shiyori’s perspective to Aiko’s perspective, sometimes viewing the same scene several times over, as we are thrown into a completely unpredictable nightmare.

Kenta Fukasaku has always shown that he has a keen visual eye, but his exposition and delivery of narrative is usually sloppy at best. In "X-Cross" he dispenses with his heavy handed ways and relies purely on cinematic technique, and its bang on. Maybe it’s because "X-Cross" is based on a book, maybe because the book was adapted by Tetsuya Oishi, fresh off of writing "Death Note" and "Death Note: the Last Name", or maybe it’s because Kenta gave up trying to beat his audience over the head with his narrative, but whatever it is, "X-Cross" goes for the jugular. Just when you think you have it all figured out, when you think you finally know where the film is going, he pulls the carpet out from underneath you. You think the leg fetishist locals, who perform strange, Wicker Man-like rituals on females staying at the resort are the chief antagonists? Well watch out for the giant scissor wielding femme who cuts to pieces anyone in her path. You think you know who or why they went to the resort in the first place, or why Shiyori’s boyfriend broke up with her, or who the stranger is on the phone? You think you have any idea how the film is going to end? Kenta ensures that you won’t, and that you’ll enjoy every minute of it. If he continues making films of this caliber, he’s finally got a bright future ahead of him, and he’ll finally be able to step out from under his father’s immense shadow. If however, this is more a matter of exceptional writing that exceptional direction, the Kenta doesn’t have much hope.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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