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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: Rampo Noir (2005)

I remember when I found myself swept up in the 'J-Horror Craze' along with every other conscientious shock seeker of the time.  Standard American fare had become absent of any subtlety or invention, while over in Japan they were cranking out consistently compelling psychological thrillers full of supernatural elements and unpredictable characters.  Many of them could be interpreted in multiple ways leaving you thinking well after the final frames.  They stimulated the psyche, like all great cinema should, proving much more effective than stateside spooks like Scream or Blair Witch.

By the time Hollywood took the hint and started churning out their own remakes and knock-offs, the entire genre was becoming far too formulaic and similar in composition.  If I saw another disenfranchised herky-jerky ghost lumbering toward the camera I was going to go postal, so I turned my back on J-Horror for a long spell.  Rampo Noir came under my radar recently, however, and I’m glad it did - it’s an experience unlike any other.

The anthology proffers four short films based on the writings of Edogawa Rampo (sometimes referred to as the Japanese Edgar Allan Poe) whose stories have fueled cinema in The Land of The Rising Sun for generations.  Unfortunately, having never read his work myself, I cannot comment on how faithful these adaptations are to the source material.  Nevertheless, I can say they are unique, unconventional and the directors involved obviously took great care to bring these imaginative fabrications to life.

The first and shortest segment, ‘Mars Canal’, is a narrative-free piece by Suguru Takeuchi.  A naked man stumbles through the wilderness.  Brief edits of shadowed naked bodies in conflict disturb the beautiful pastiche before he collapses at a mirrored lake. The lake seems to represent some portal for this man’s transgressions.  The End.

The second segment, ‘Mirror Hell’, directed by Akio Jissoji, is a little more linear.  A detective investigates the deaths of some beautiful tea maidens whose faces have inexplicably melted.  The gumshoe eventually links their demise to a mirror crafted by a local artisan who is consumed (quite literally) by his quest for perfection.  The subdued photography underscores the dark theme and some strong S&M imagery is utilized to startling effect.

The third and most controversial piece is entitled ‘Caterpillar', by Japanese extremist Hisayasu Sato; best known abroad for the cannibal madness that was Naked Blood.  The story relates the perverse relationship between a war-ravaged soldier and his loving wife.  The serviceman has lost his limbs in battle and willingly surrenders to his mate's sadistic whims and his own dissolution.  Graphic, to be sure, but the psychological implications of their strange alliance is even more disconcerting.  Sato's seditious sensibilities are far more reserved than usual and he crafts something indisputably visionary.  Love doesn’t always play by the rules in this powerful presentation.

The final segment, ‘Crawling Bugs’, is helmed by manga artist Atsushi Kaneko.  Not surprisingly, it is the most surreal offering, saturated in lush vivid colors that augment the tale of obsession.  A man holds an unhealthy fixation for the actress he chauffeurs. Phobia and dementia soon eclipse his reality culminating in a spectacularly appalling climax.  The final repulsive scene leaves you breathless and should surely linger in memory.

Rampo Noir is a noted departure from the J-horror I had come around in recent years to trivialize.  The artistic arrangement begs the viewer to immerse himself in its hallucinatory structure.  Challenging, visually arresting, erotically charged, exquisitely composed and refreshingly void of the usual trappings.  It unapologetically dives into the dark recesses of the mind to bring Edogawa Rampo’s peculiar nightmares to fruition.  The Japanese are long renowned for breaking the boundaries of conventional storytelling; Rampo Noir, however, manages to feel quite methodical in its madness, striking a disquieting chord in the process.

1 comment:

  1. this is a film I need to make to view !! sounds very interesting