Monday, July 03, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Rage

It’s all about the red herrings. Three young men happen to bear a resemblance to the vague descriptions of a notorious killer following his plastic surgery. In one case, it is because he is indeed Yamaguchi, the murderer of a suburban couple. The other two have the misfortune of being socially awkward and having the wrong kind of look. Those who had just started to trust the three mystery loners will begin to suspect they might be the killer in Lee Sang-il’s Rage (trailer here), which screens during this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

You do not have to explain the evil men are capable of to Yohei Maki. He has just rescued his runaway daughter from enslavement in a sex club, where she was horribly abused. He is trying to provide a low stress environment that resembles normalcy for Aiko, so he doesn’t object when she commences a relationship with his quiet, new part-timer, Tetsuya Tashiro. Frankly, he is probably the only young man in their provincial seaside town who will look past her notorious past.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Yuma Fujita has a decidedly unromantic meeting with the sort-of-willing Naoto Onishi is a gay bath house. Despite staying resolutely in the closet as far as his business associates and college friends are concerned, Fujita takes the unsophisticated Onishi home with him. While he successfully grooms the young outsider into the sort of companion he desires, he never fully trusts him.

Our third suspect will be Shingo Tanaka, a backpacker squatting in an abandoned bunker on a small, deserted isle in the Okinawas. Izumi Komiya and Tatsuya Chinen happen upon him when they arrive one day for a picnic. Unfortunately, their story will take terrible detour when Komiya is assaulted by two G.I.s late one night on the streets of Naha.

It is remarkable how convincingly Lee’s adaptation of Shuichi Yoshida’s novel casts suspicion on each of the three lone wolves. Lee never really gives us the clues to unmask the killer on our own, because the whole point is to experience the uncertainty and paranoia. Tsuyoshi Imai’s editing rather brilliantly serves that purpose.

Ken Watanabe also once again proves he is one of the best in the business when not making massive Hollywood tent-poles. There is a poignant simplicity to his performance as Maki, the desperately concerned father that will hit viewers on a deep level. Likewise, the deceptive power of Aoi Miyzaki portrayal of Aiko Maki make the coastal Chiba segments the most emotionally involving. Still, Suzu Hirose is heartbreakingly innocent and vulnerable as Komiya.

Ironically, Go Ayano and Kenichi Matsuyama are largely forced into one-note performances Onishi and Tashiro to maintain suspicions, whereas Mirai Moriyama is allowed more flamboyance as Tanaka. Poor Pierre Taki is admirably salty and world weary as Kunihisa Nanjo, the senior detective working the original double-homicide, but he is largely crowded out of his screen time by the three suspects and their story arcs. It really is tough to be a public servant, isn’t it?

Frankly, Lee drags out the three moments of truth far longer than necessary. Still, it is a smart, bracing film that manages to be both forgiving of human weakness and grimly cautionary regarding human nature’s capacity for sin and violence. Very highly recommended, Rage screens this Wednesday (7/5) at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2017 NYAFF.