JAPAN CUTS 2011 - A NIGHT IN NUDE: SALVATION Review
It isn't being billed as one, at least not on the Japan Society website, yet somehow the rest of the internet seems to know what I didn't. And by rest of the internet, I mean a handful of blogs specializing in Asian cinema.
Now you might think releasing a followup to a movie nobody has seen sounds like a bad idea, but Salvation functions surprisingly well as a stand alone. It helps that the film isn't a direct continuation- it's a whole new story featuring an existing character, a la James Bond. Only instead of a debonair spy who loved me, our hero is a down on his luck dick named Jiro.
Jiro is a handyman slash private eye who'll do anything for a price, but he won't do that. For love, on the other hand, he just might. Enter femme fatale Ren, a hooker with a heart of fool's gold playing the damsel in distress. She hires Jiro to recover her dead father's Rolex, which she claims was lost in a forest while his ashes were being scattered from a helicopter.
Against all odds like Phil Collins, Jiro finds the missing watch. This leads to a second, more sinister assignment- tracking down a childhood friend of Ren's. As per usual with these types of situations, all is not what it seems. Jiro gets in way over his head and goes tumbling down a rabbit hole of murder, rape and incest. And murder. And fantasy full-body oil massage. In a car. That can not be good for the upholstery.
Takashi Ishii is probably best known around these parts as the director of homosexual heist flick Gonin, starring Beat Takashi, and sub-zero rape/revenger Freeze Me. He's a veteran of the Japanese film industry with over a dozen movies under his belt and he knows how to put one together. Salvation is no exception. It has everything you'd expect from a gritty neo-noir, but it's not some trendy deconstruction. It's an honest to goodness genre flick- no tongue, no cheek. Well, there is a little cheek. Actually, there's a whole lot of it, courtesy of retired Japanese idol, Hiroko Sato. She puts the nude in the night! Yowza!
But that sort of thing comes with the territory. Ishii has never been one to shy away from explicit sex and violence. He's even dabbled in straight up softcore (2004's Flower and Snake.) And while certain scenes in Salvation come dangerously close to Red Shoe Diaries territory, the strength of the film as a whole saves it from being an exercise in titillation.
Part of that strength comes from Naoto Takenaka's portrayal of Jiro. His character is like a middle-aged Maiku Hama, just not as cocky. He turns in a nice, understated performance when he could have easily made a chew toy of the scenery. If I have one complaint, it's that he tends to talk to himself in an expository fashion, narrating his actions with a verbalized inner monologue. I don't know if this was a choice that originated with the script, but it's something the film could have done without. Takenaka is an emotive enough actor. We don't need to be told what he's feeling. It's all right there on his face.
Other than that, Salvation is solid stuff. It doesn't really have anything new to offer, but what it does, it does well. I don't know how we're expected to believe that such inept criminals could get away with so many egregious crimes for so long, but I'll let that slide. Jiro is a compelling enough character to warrant suspending a certain amount of disbelief. Hopefully Salvation will spark enough interest in him that we'll be given an opportunity to see his previous exploits- and maybe even some future ones.
A Night in Nude: Salvation has its North American premiere on Sunday, July 17th at Japan Society. Tickets and info HERE.