Tuesday, November 30, 2010

REVIEW: A Night in Nude: Salvation

ヌードの夜/愛は惜しみなく奪う (Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku uba)

Released: 2010

Director:
Takashi Ishii

Starring:
Naoto Takenaka
Hiroko Sato
Joe Shishido
Harumi Inoue
Machiko Kochi

Running time: 126 min.

Reviewed by Chris MaGee


Jiro (Naoto Takenaka) is a man who can do anything for you for a price. Part odd jobs man and part private eye he takes on tasks as simple as clearing out storage lockers to tracking down lost items. That's what he's asked to do by a beautiful young woman (Hiroko Sato) who shows up at his warehouse living space one afternoon. This young woman asks Jiro to help her track down a lost Rolex watch that she says was accidentally thrown out of a helicopter while she was scattering the ashes of her late father. Jiro knows the story isn't true, but he needs the money so he and the young woman begin poking around miles of woodland in the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Miraculously Jiro finds the wrist watch, but it looks to be caked in rotting meat. Needy but not stupid Jiro hands the watch over to a sympathetic police woman he knows for analysis. Little does Jiro know that the discovery of this Rolex will lead to another case, one filled with violence, sex and danger, one that will lead him directly into the heart of darkness.

"A Night in Nude: Salvation" is in fact a sequel to a 1993 film by director Takashi Ishii, a man who has never shied away from themes of criminality and eroticism in his work. North American Japanese films fans will recognize the handful of his titles that have managed to compete with the Miikes and Kitanos and make their way to Region 1 DVD. Ishii was the man behind the ensemble crime drama "Gonin", the violently sexual thriller "Freeze Me" and a remake of the classic roman porno film "Flower and Snake", but in his home country Ishii has been responsible for over 30 films since his debut in 1978. What all his films have haad in common is a gritty, unforgiving view of humanity combined with slick visuals, dramatic lighting and saturated colours. Ishii plays on these strengths to take Jiro into the middle of a trio of homocidal prostitutes plying their trade in the rough streets of Kabukicho. We're introduced to Mama, Momo and Ren after they kill a violent client and dismember and then scatter his remains in the forest at the foot of Mount Fuji. Nothing will or can stand in the way of these three women, not even the incestuous, drunken father (Joe Shishido) of the youngest prostitute Ren. It's Ren, who after getting her missing Rolex back from Jiro hires him again to find a missing hooker named Tae. Jiro never suspects who this girl may actually be.

One has to stress that "A Night in Nude: Salvation" doesn't really break any new territory. It is a fairly standard neo-noir crime thriller, but what makes it such a huge success is that it hits all the genre marks and is crafted so perfectly. The past decade has seen a number of Japanese films and filmmakers that have attempted to play with noir or cops and criminals conventions, but it's a rare film that has actually succeeded. One can look to the yakuza films of Rokuro Mochizuki and the hard-boiled work of Gen Takahashi as examples of success, but the market has also been cluttered with everything from the pat TV adaptations of series such as "Bayside Shakedown" and "Partners" to the post-Tarantino experiments of Shinji Aoyama's "Wild Life" and Katsuhito Ishii's "Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl".

Ishii, a three decade filmmaking veteran, knows not to fiddle too much with what makes a private detective story so compelling - a broken, world weary protagonist, a femme fatale character to play on his emotions, a fascinating if repellent villain and of course a mystery. Ishii in fact gives us two layers of mystery, who this elusive Tae is and what evil is luring beneath Ren's beautiful exterior. Hiroko Sato as Ren is remarkably good considering that she is a retired idol and gravure model. Yes, Ishii takes every opportunity to get Sato out of her clothes, but even in scenes where she is acting totally nuide opposite Naoto Takenaka she brings a believability that most former buxom tarento could never muster. The rest of the cast keeps the story barreling along as well. Takenaka, who has previously starred in Ishii's "Freeze Me", "Gonin" and of course the first "Night in Nude", plays Jiro as a man bewildered by a world that he retreated from so long ago. Harumi Inoue's Momo is equal in beauty, but is as hard as steel, and screen legend Joe Shishido gives a frightening performance as Ren's perverted father.

Let's hope that despite "A Night in Nude: Salvation" being a sequel to a little known (at least in the West) film that it gets a chance to make the rounds of festivals in North America and Europe. It really is one of the best films of the year, a journey into the underbelly of Tokyo that will leave very few audience members unaffected.

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