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Kaosu (1999)

Chaos, Hideo Nakatas Chaos

Directed by:

Hideo Nakati

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 104 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: Japan

Thanks to a chillingly effective (and irony-free) ghost story called Ringu (1998), Japanese director Hideo Nakati is often credited with reinvigorating the entire horror genre, and opening up a new well of terror into which Hollywood, ever the parasite, could freely tap. Before viewers had had a moment to catch their breath, Nakati’s weirder, if somewhat inferior sequel, Ringu 2 (1999), had appeared – and by the time that Hollywood had caught up with the phenomenon, releasing Gore Verbinski’s western remake The Ring (2002) which, for all its box-office success, neutered the eerie obliquity of the original by leaving far less to the imagination, Nakati had just completed his best work of horror to date, Dark Water (2002) – which is itself now slated for a Hollywood remake, along with Ringu 2 (to be directed once again by Nakati, and, according to Dreamworks, a newly original sequel rather than a strict remake).

All of which is to say that Nakati is currently a hot property in Hollywood, and the prospect of turning his Japanese-language works into more marketable all-American products has proved difficult to resist. Indeed, ‘Chaos’, a convoluted mystery-thriller which Nakati made some five years ago just after completing Ringu 2, is being released in Britain only now, and only, one suspects, in anticipation of Jonathan Glazer’s remake which is due out in 2005, starring Robert de Niro. Except that in this case Hollywood will really only be imitating itself, as ‘Chaos’ is, when it comes down to it, a Japanese deadringer for Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ (1958).

Some way into ‘Chaos’, handyman Goro Kuroda (Masato Hagiwara) declares: “Saori Komiyama was abducted near ‘L’ and confined somewhere – always remember that premise”. Indeed the film opens with businessman Takayuka Komiyama (Ken Mitsuishi) out dining with his wife Saori at the French restaurant ‘L’, and then losing sight of her as he pays the bill – only to be telephoned shortly afterwards and informed that she has been kidnapped and ra
ped. Yet as is the way of things in such films, nothing is quite as it seems, and that initial premise has soon become twisted and distorted beyond all recognition. For starters, Goro’s apparently hapless abductee (Miki Nakatani) has in fact staged her own kidnapping “to test my husband” for infidelity – and when a very dead body appears in this supposedly victimless crime, a series of multiple-perspective flashbacks reveals aspects of a scenario which gradually fit together like pieces of an intricate jigsaw puzzle, overturning one by one all the viewer’s assumptions about who is the criminal and who is the victim.

Thanks to the assured trickiness of Hisashi Saito’s screenplay (adapted from the novel by Shogo Utano) and the extraordinary versatility of all the central performers, it is difficult not to admire the vertiginous construction of this film’s plot, which again and again pulls the ground from beneath the viewer’s feet. The biggest surprise in this film, however, is the unexpected blandness of Nakati’s direction, which left me feeling, against my better judgement, that for once the American remake may well prove the better film.

It's Got: A complicated narrative with twists at every turn; impressively versatile acting, especially from Miki Nakatani as the mercurial femme fatale; disturbing SM scenes that underscore the film’s themes of power and play-acting; a great head-scratcher of an ending; and solid proof that the ability to drive is the key to a girl’s heart.

It Needs: Your concentration – and direction that seems less workaday (Nakati is capable of much better).

Alternatives:

'Blood Simple', 'Body Double', 'Vertigo', Fargo

Summary

A twisty, and at times twisted, kidnapping thriller – just a pity the direction seems so sterile.

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