Friday, June 28, 2019

NYAFF ’19: The Gun

The more you work with firearms, the more you come to regard them as a simple tool. Alas, Toru Nishikawa’s society does not afford him that opportunity, so when he chances across a Magnum at a riverside crime scene, he is compelled to pocket it—and quickly becomes obsessed with its dangerous power. Plenty of blame will be placed on the inanimate object in Masaharu Take’s The Gun, which screens during the 2019 New York Asian Film Festival.

There was a dead body and a gun lying next to it, but Nishikawa is compelled to swipe the latter before the cops arrive. As soon as he gets home, he starts fantasizing about how he might use it. The abusive mother living in the next-door apartment immediately presents herself as an appropriate prospective victim. However, Nishikawa intends to take his time, so he can savor the idea and the anticipation. He will even start a semi-serious relationship with an attractive fellow undergrad, Yuki Yoshikawa, who has recently resumed her studies.

The Gun somewhat follows in the vein of the “Blue Scorpion” episode of the new Twilight Zone reboot series, in that both literally demonize hand guns. At least Take and co-screenwriter Hideki Shishido are more subtle in how they go about it. They also take things in a very existential, Dostoevskian direction. You would almost expect to find Nishikawa huddled in a Moscow garret.

Unfortunately, the film basically runs out of steam during the third act, allowing a lot of good film noir business to go to waste. It is especially frustrating to see the great Lily Frankly only really have one extended scene as the cop giving Nishikawa the Columbo treatment. More of their cat-and-mouse and less of Nishikawa’s self-destructive angst would have made Gun a stronger film.

Nevertheless, Nijiro Murakami is viscerally intense and unsettlingly sociopathic as Nishikawa. He is all kinds of creepy and clammy. Franky is perfectly cast as the world-weary, smarter-than-he-looks flatfoot, while Alice Hirose is terrific as the warm but insecure Yoshikawa.

As in previous films, such as 100 Yen Love, Take dives into the grubby, marginalized milieu. Hiromitsu Nishimura’s stark black-and-white cinematography quite effectively reflects Nishikawa’s darkly agitated state of mind, in a way reminiscent of Aronofsky’s Pi. Yet, somehow, he dispenses with too many subplots in a perfunctory, on-the-nose manner, like the scene involving the biological father Nishikawa has not met up until the second act.

Altogether, The Gun is a hugely frustrating film for hardboiled thriller fans, but it is safe to say Franky will leave them wanting more. Recommended for those who value noir visual stylings over substance, The Gun screens this Sunday (6/30) as part of this year’s NYAFF.