Directed by Toshimichi Ohkawa
Cast: Masaya Kato, Riki Takeuchi, Hideo Nakano, Jinpachi Nezu.
1999 100 minutes
In Japanese with English subtitles.
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of an R for violence, profanity, sexual situations, and blood).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 2, 1999.
Watching filmmaker Toshimichi Ohkawa's Japanese film, "Nobody," it struck me several times that this picture could be scripted and made in the same exact fashion as an American revenge thriller, although here it includes a no-nonsense, assured style that is rarely found in the U.S. mainstream. Tautly filmed and tightly developed without getting side-tracked with a bunch of needless subplots, the film includes three flawed heroes, easily discernible villains, mucho action sequences, and even a few clever, if somewhat cliched, plot twists. Moving at a brisk pace and highly entertaining for the genre, "Nobody" ultimately falls apart in its last five seconds, which does not solve the film in any way, but instead adds another conflict that makes you question what the point was to begin with.
Taki (Masaya Kato) and his two friends, the hard-edged Nambu (Riki Takeuchi) and weak Konishi (Hideo Nakano), are everybody businessmen in Japan enjoying themselves in a bar when they wrongfully are caught talking negatively about three mysterious men at the table next to theirs. When the three men pick a fight, their confrontation ends anticlimactically, but later, while going back to get the umbrella he left inside the bar, Konishi is severely beaten up. This means war for Taki and, especially, Nambu, who become set on finding out the three mens' indentities and hunting them down. Just when they begin to realize they probably will never see them again, they unexpectedly come into contact with one of the culprits and beat him up in the same manner that they did to Konishi. Receiving a threatening telephone call the next day, however, they are told that the man died, and they are not going to get away with what they have done.
"Nobody" is a conventional action-thriller that works particularly well because of director Ohkawa's expertise in stylish filmmaking, with a noir undertone and a collision of effective, chic elements, including moody camerawork, a memorably creepy music score, and thrilling action setpieces. There is very little in the way of character development or multi-layered plotting, aside from an unsatisfactorily realized subplot in which Taki's girlfriend discovers he has cheated on her, but that doesn't matter too much, just as long as the film is able to sweep you up in its basic, simple storyline, which it does.
A substantial amount of suspense is mustered up in many masterful scenes, including one in which Konishi foolishly meets the two remaining villains in a restaurant, expecting to simply talk with them, and another in which Nambu has a confrontation with an unidentified man in a black car that takes a violent turn. The color scheme of the film only adds to the atmosphere, as the night scenes are lit in varying shades of blue and black, while the day scenes are painted as gloomy and rather pallid. Accordingly, the climax is appropriately grisly and somewhat unpredictable.
Unfortunately, "Nobody" becomes problematic in its cheap conclusion and wrap-up section, which includes a terribly-performed, artificial scene between Taki and his girlfriend, which, to begin with, is an inadequately developed relationship that has not earned the right to be as emotionally rewarding as it's supposed to be. Worst of all is the film's last few seconds, which are a complete and utter letdown that shows Taki has not actually won anything. He's practically back where he started at the film's ten-minute mark, and therefore, proves that in the ninety minutes that followed, he solved nothing. It is difficult giving a recommendation to a film that asks you to devote your time with it, only to add a final twist that is in no way justifiable. Perhaps this would not be such a severe flaw in a horror movie, where a sequel is almost inevitable, but in a Japanese thriller, it is doubtful we will be seeing a "Nobody Part 2" in the future. Still, "Nobody," Part 1, is a prime example of style over substance (which there is very little of), and its one major blunder does not erase the success that the rest of the film achieved.
©1999 by Dustin Putman