Friday, November 14, 2008

REVIEW: Synesthesia - Toru Matsuura (2005)

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

The condition of Synesthesia - stimulation of one of your senses (taste, touch, sight, smell, aural) which leads to an experience in another sense - has always been fascinating to me. To see shapes or colours when looking at a number or to hear music when you touch something is completely at odds with the way most people's senses work. But for those with synesthesia, it's just normal to them - though likely quite frustrating to know they are virtually alone in sensing the world in this manner. Even two people with synesthesia will not necessarily have the same reactions to stimuli. That's some pretty rich ground to cover with a great deal of potential for a visual medium like film to express what a synesthete must feel like on a daily basis. Particularly if you wrap a crime story around things.

That's the promise of Toru Matsuura's 2005 film "Synesthesia". It begins like a straightforward police thriller - a solid one in fact due to some good character setups, strong acting and a mysterious looking stain left at a crime scene. From this early introduction of a few police detectives and the daughter of the murdered man (her third adoptive parent in a row that has been killed), we shift to the story of Shin - a mid-twenties synesthete who works for the yakuza setting up live camera feeds for sale over the Internet. While investigating one young woman's live feed (it seems to be in a repeated loop), they discover her missing from her apartment - but with a blood stain pattern on her bed that looks the same as the one from the earlier murder. Shin immediately realizes that the pattern must have been created by another synesthete. He has been living under the impression that no one saw the world like he did (because of his specific form of synesthesia), but the pattern has convinced him that he is not alone and that he must meet the culprit. The story starts to complicate itself a bit as we learn that the likely suspect is nicknamed Picasso and he can be "met" in an online game called Marionette. If you make it all the way to the final level, you will encounter Picasso there. Unfortunately, everyone who has done this so far has ended up committing suicide. Typically via one of the live feeds being managed by Shin and his partner.

The story really threatens to collapse upon itself around this point. The video game element is a bit overused by now and though I was willing to go along with the confusing elements of the story (the film gives you the confidence that all its confusing plot points will somehow come together in the end), its resolution was at most satisfactory. Perhaps it's because I felt the film ended up being a bit of a missed opportunity...There are segments of the story that incorporate the synesthesia phenomenon quite well, but it happens in fits and starts. It's certainly integral to the plot as a whole, but there are moments in the film that you almost forget about it entirely. And though there is a great deal of colour in the film and an almost restless camera that's always moving, I couldn't help but wish for a few more attempts at representing the condition that Shin and the other synesthetes have to deal with regularly. We're given a few moments, but much of what we learn about the condition is through description.

So in the end, "Synesthesia" is a well made police thriller with several twists and turns. Nothing wrong with that at all. I just wanted more.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.


keeperdesign said...

I'm slightly bewildered. Why didn't you savage this movie? It's got an interminably slow second half, a completely unsatisfactory and logicless confusion... It never delivered on its promise until a half-hearted attempt in the final minutes. A stinker!

Bob Turnbull said...

Oh sure, wait until 2 years after I've seen the damn thing to call me on the carpet! B-)

I honestly don't remember a whole lot about it. Certainly a feeling of disappointment because there was an opportunity to do a great deal more with the concept and I am recalling (now that you mention it) that the second half was a bit of a slog. But I think there was enough in the early parts of the film that was done well and managed to keep me reasonably engaged that I wouldn't call it a stinker.

Then again, I have no urge to see it again, so I suppose you can't really call that an endorsement, eh?

Sorry to leave you bewildered Eric. If you're going to read one of my reviews, though, that's always a risk. I thought you had figured that out...B-)