Japanese action star Tak Sakiguchi makes a welcome return to the screen in this stripped-down action thriller that sees a deadly super soldier forced out of seclusion and back to his old ways of precision destruction. After a somewhat sluggish first act that insists on laying down unnecessary context and backstory, the action in Re: Born kicks into gear and never lets up, showcasing some brutal close-quarter combat to rival anything emerging from Asia right now.
Director Yuji Shimomura has collaborated with Tak on numerous occasions, directing him in 2005’s Death Trance as well as serving as action director on Versus and Yakuza Weapon, in addition to working on big budget projects including Gantz: Perfect Answer and Library Wars.
Together with acclaimed fight choreographer Yoshitaka Inagawa, Tak and Shimomura developed a new style of martial arts specifically for the film. Focusing on “zero range combat” and employing a lot of different bladed weapons, the extensive fight sequences throughout Re: Born are consistently innovative and breathlessly intense, whether that means transforming a bullet clip into a pen canon, or fending off a vicious female assailant in a phone booth.
Tak plays Toshiro, an elite special forces operative of incredible talent and deadly ability. Literally faster than a speeding bullet, “Ghost” was the very best the Japan Defence Force had to offer, that is until his squad was wiped out by a mysterious assailant.
Retreating into suburban solitude, Toshiro adopts a peaceful life caring for Sachi (Yura Kondo), a young girl left in his care. Before long, his former comrades come looking for revenge, believing Toshiro responsible for murdering their teammates. But as they close in, another deadly opponent, known as The Abyss Walker, emerges from the shadows.
There is more to the plot of Re: Born, including a mythical twist on the “Ghost” legend, a frustrated former teammate left paralysed and horribly scarred by a past heroic deed, and the whiff of a romance between Toshiro and his sexy psychiatrist (Hitomi Hasebe), but they make little impact on the carnage to come. Shimomura insists on making his audience wait for the action to begin, but once Toshiro is let loose, Re: Born offers wave after wave of gratuitous, unrelenting action.
Tak has struggled repeatedly to break out onto the international stage, and truly capitalise on the success of his debut, Versus back in 2000. Recently, a bitter squabble with industry higher-ups forced Tak into premature retirement, but with Re: Born he makes an emphatic return. Short on emotional outpouring, Tak is nevertheless captivating to watch, rotating his shoulders in a bizarre, almost cat-like manner as he sizes up each opponent, before unleashing a bevvy of killer blows.
Fantastic Fest regulars will spot a host of familiar names in the film’s credits, including make-up maestro Yoshihiro Nishimura, producer Midori Inoue, Dead Sushi’s Rina Takeda providing voiceover narration, and composer Kenji Kawaii penning the film’s score. Tak himself is no stranger to Austin, having appeared in previous festival favourites like Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Yakuza Weapon.
While perhaps not as showy or star-studded as the Mo Brothers’ Headshot, Benny Chan's Call of Heroes or Scott Adkins vehicle Boyka: Undisputed, you'd be a fool to miss Shimamura’s Re: Born, which promises blood-soaked, throat-gouging mayhem in a signature style you will not have witnessed before.
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