Inju, the Beast in the Shadow

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Additional Venice Film Festival reviews

Venice Film Festival, In Competition

"Reversal of Fortune" director Barbet Schroeder makes an ambitious attempt to revisit, in spirit, some of the great B-movies and thrillers of the past in 'Inju, the Beast in the Shadow,' which starts out as a smart romp through exotic Japan, only to spiral down into disappointing predictability after a hot opening half-hour. Inspired by a book by cult writer Edogawa Rampo and shot in French and Japanese, the film promises much more than it ultimately delivers. Commercial prospects will rest on the imaginatively recreated Kyoto atmosphere and vivid characters, not least a beautiful geisha into S&M.

A long opening sequence sets the camp bar high, as a Japanese detective bursts into a home and finds the maid decapitated; then accidentally kills the woman he loves, after which he engages in a fatal sword-fight with his monstruous nemesis, who wins. As heads roll, the lights go on and this agreeable piece of hokum is revealed to be an old movie based on a novel by the mysterious cult author Shundei Oe. Best-selling French novelist Alex Fayard (Benoit Magimel) is lecturing on Oe to a college class, before he boards a plane for Kyoto where he is to do a book tour. So far so good, and film zips along on to his appearance on Japanese TV, where he deliberately provokes the reclusive Oe into making a threatening phone call on air. Alex's aim is to bring him out of seclusion and, well, talk to him.

On a visit to a tea house with his Japanese editor (Gen Shimaoka), Alex is entranced by a well-educated, French-speaking geisha, or more correctly geiko, as the subtitles insist. Tamao (Lika Minamoto) begs him to protect her from a deranged ex-boyfriend who is threatening her life, possibly Oe himself. The vain, naive Alex readily agrees, plunging himself into deepening trouble and ever more improbable situations. By the time his suspicions fall on Tamao's gangster lover Mogi ("The Grudge's" Ryo Ishibashi), the story has long since lost its light-hearted tone of good fun and turned plain silly. It is also exasperatingly easy to guess the final turn of events long before the scriptwriters think you will.

A pity, because "Inju" has its watchable moments and a pleasing, dream-like atmosphere. In the role of the not easily likeable novelist, Magimel recalls a Dan Brown hero seen through a glass darkly. Newcomer Lika Minamoto makes an impact as the fascinating geisha, acting her way credibly through a range of tough situations, from dancing demurely in costume and traditional white make-up to playing the last scene completely in the nude while suspended from a leather harness. All the tech work excels, particularly Fumio Ogawa's sets recreating Kyoto, Luciano Tovoli's splashy colored lighting, and Jorge Arriagada's score echoing classic thrillers.

Production company: SBS Films, La Fabrique de Films. Cast: Benoit Magimel, Lika Minamoto, Gen Shimaoka, Ryo Ishibashi, Shun Sugata, Tomonobu Fukui, azuhiko Nishimura, Reika Kirishima, Kazuki Tsujimoto. Director: Barbet Schroeder.  Screenwriters: Jean-Armand Bougrelle, Frederique Henri, Barbet Schroeder, based on a novel by Edogawa Rampo. Producer: Said Ben Said,Verane Frediani, Franck Ribiere. Director of photography: Luciano Tovoli. Art director: Fumio Ogawa. Music: Jorge Arriagada. Costumes: Fumiko Sugaya. Editor: Luc Barnier. Sales Agent: UGC International, France. 105 minutes.

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