cast: Gary Oldman, Kippei Shiina, and Kyoko Hasegawa
writer and director: Max Mannix
111 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
review by Barbara Davies
This international co-production, featuring a largely Japanese cast and crew, is based on the novel by Barry Eisler. Japanese-American John Rain grew up in New York before becoming a covert operative for the USA and training Navy SEALS. Now he’s back in Japan, where he’s an assassin for hire, specialising in making it look as if his targets died from natural causes.
Rain Fall’s McGuffin is a USB memory stick containing damning information about Japanese cabinet officials corrupted by the yakuza. Obviously, the yakuza want it back. But the director of the CIA’s Asian bureau, William Holtzer, also wants the stick, as it will enable the USA to blackmail Japan into doing what it wants. Watching bemusedly from the sidelines, as Holtzer is given rather far fetched access to all available CCTV footage in Tokyo and the authority to do whatever he likes, are the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Investigation Unit, who are also investigating why so many notable cabinet officials have recently been dying.
Rain is hired to eliminate Kawamura, the high ranking official who downloaded the data. But after the hit in a crowded subway carriage he finds no sign of the stick he was meant to retrieve. Holtzer doesn’t know Rain hasn’t got it, though, and thus begins a game of cat and mouse. Matters are further complicated when Rain tries to save the lives of Kawamura’s two daughters…
Not having read the novel, I was initially confused as to what was going on. It didn’t help that a subtitling error has Midori Kawamura referring to her father’s death “three weeks ago” when it was a day or so at most. Also Kippei Shiina’s Japanese accent is often impenetrable (something of a casting error, given the protagonist’s American upbringing), and for some reason Gary Oldman only uses two dialogue settings: inaudible mumble or bellow. Thankfully, things became clearer on a second viewing.
Inside this workmanlike political thriller, dotted with Bourne-style machinations and action, a more exciting film is struggling to get out, and it’s intriguing to speculate what a Hollywood version might have done differently. It’s essentially a two-hander – a battle of wits between Rain and Holtzer – set in a Tokyo cityscape, its atmosphere enhanced by a moody soundtrack. But the blend of American and Japanese feels a little awkward at times, and the sentimental coda goes on too long.
They say that short stories make better films, and this may be a case in point. Max Mannix must have gutted Eisler’s novel to cram it into his running time and I’ve a feeling he’s left some of the more intriguing plot strands by the wayside as here Midori (Kyoko Hasegawa) is little more than a contrivance to reveal Rain’s softer side and to set up a frankly rather risible ending in New York. And as for Detective Tatsu Ishikura (Akira Emoto), his character brims with potential but is underused.
Those looking for flashy martial arts won’t find it here – Rain prefers punching or stabbing people (to the accompaniment of oddly flat sound effects). As John Rain, Kippei Shiina handles the fight scenes well, but he lacks a sense of real presence as well as the necessary command of American English, and he’s up against a scene-stealer in Gary Oldman (the Harry Potter movies, Dracula, JFK). Following the unwritten rule that bad Americans must be played by Brits, Oldman is enjoyably OTT as the CIA director, bellowing every order twice at his hapless agents, while his second-in-command looks aghast and makes perfunctory protests. Kyoko Hasegawa isn’t given much to do as Midori except to look demure and pretend to play the piano. And, to my eyes, Akira Emoto (Zatôichi, 2003) never looks quite right in a contemporary urban setting.