Friday, October 29, 2010

REVIEW: Silver


Released: 1999

Takashi Miike

Atsuko Sakuraba
Kenji Haga
Shinobu Kandori
Rumi Kazama
Hisao Maki

Running time: 79 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

There are few directors, Japanese or otherwise, with as full a filmography as Takashi Miike. One of the best-known things about the idiosyncratic auteur is his reputation for tackling multiple projects per year. With such a vast career that dips into as many genres and forms of broad entertainment as Miike’s does, it can be tricky to try and determine just how many (if any) personal details about the man himself actually make it into his work (though there are telling hints, such as his declaration that "Young Thugs: Nostalgia") is his favorite of the films he has made). However, those who seek out enough films will be able to spot the clear-cut gems he has produced over the years, among them "Audition," the "Dead or Alive" trilogy, "Visitor Q" and "Ichi the Killer." Then there are films that stand out as gun-for-hire projects – what could be called filler material. 1999’s "Silver," which is based on a manga by Hisao Maki and was made before the abovementioned films but after "Fudoh: The New Generation," "The Bird People in China" and "Young Thugs: Nostalgia," is one of those films.

"Silver"’s plot is conveniently of the by-the-books revenge story variety, with some secret agent ingredients thrown in. The curvy Atsuko Sakuraba plays the main character: a secret service agent named Jun whose mother, father and sister are all murdered one night by a mysterious gang. She flees to the United States where, it is fleetingly mentioned, she does some training with the FBI, then comes back to Japan three years later and reunites with her former supervisor and lover. He arranges her to be trained in a women’s pro wrestling league, where she will add to her skills in karate. She invents an alter ego for herself named Silver and sets out to claim her vengeance from Nancy, the notorious dominatrix behind her family’s murder. Along the way, she is watched by a secretive organization known as the Viper’s Nest.

The main weaknesses of "Silver" stem from two factors: its exploitation formula-derived dullness and its tendency to fall apart logically. For an example of the latter, take the wrestling storyline. It would make sense for Jun/Silver to go undercover in the league if her target was involved in that world in some way. But the thing is, she isn’t. Thus, the handful of wrestling sequences thrown into the film are nothing more than weak (albeit entertaining) excuses to see buff women grappling with each other in the ring and a means of giving Jun her skintight, black and white costume. More confusing are the numerous mentions of secret societies throughout the film. It is never made clear what the main goals of the Viper’s Nest are exactly (besides being evil in general). Even plot points that should be pretty clear are muddled and murky. Why exactly was Jun’s family killed? What role did Nancy play in the incident? What exactly was in it for her?

Luckily, "Silver" is not just a flimsy exploitation flick – it is a flimsy Takashi Miike exploitation flick, meaning that there are plenty of wonderfully bizarre elements dispersed throughout its duration. The bulk of them are centered on Nancy, the villainess who is first seen taking breakfast on her balcony – with a black dildo in her hand. She lives in a strange city in the middle of the desert, which is never given any explanation – and in fact, we never see more of the city beyond Nancy’s house. Weirder, and more frightening, are the various S+M activities that Nancy indulges in, usually with a bespectacled corporate president who she gleefully humiliates. One especially icky scene that brings to mind a similar moment in "Audition" involves a pink wig, a riding crop, contortionism and a jar of urine. Nancy herself makes quite the unusual nemesis, particularly when she is shown in her kinky costumes wielding numerous instruments of punishment. Other absurd touches include a thug whose face is quite literally demolished by Jun; her family’s killer, whose appearance is oddly based on the "Friday the 13th" films’ Jason; an S+M club patron with an impossibly big, pixelated member and the strange CGI-composed environments and effects that occasionally turn up.

Along with such comically strange additions from Miike, "Silver" also offers more predictable yet amusing things like some decent fight sequences, a cheesy soft-core sequence between Jun and her boss, a showdown with a Viper’s Nest agent and a surprise cliffhanger ending – even though there doesn’t appear to have been any follow-up to the film ever made. Between these elements and the more outlandish, “Miike-esque” ones, "Silver" makes for a fairly entertaining, sometimes baffling jaunt. Yet there is no denying the C-grade, cheap thrill aspect of the film – or that Miike has made far, far better works than this one.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog

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