Map of the Sounds of Tokyo -- Film Review

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An erotic-thriller about a Japanese assassin who falls in love with her Spanish target, Isabel Coixet's "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo" is "Nikita" reincarnated with Tokyo eyes. Glossy cinematography and a Wong Kar Wai wannabe soundtrack conspire to rehash some cliched images of the Japanese metropolis, with little that Chris Marker, Wim Wenders, Jean-Pierre Limosin or Sofia Coppola haven't done before.

"Map" will fulfill a certain semi-artsy, mostly European crowd's taste for upmarket exotica with its suggestive representation of a demure oriental beauty's sexual flowering under the experienced touch of a hot-blooded Hispanic. With 2007 Oscar-nominee Rinko Kikuchi ("Babel") making a bold impression as the assassin, a Japanese release is also likely, even if the corny dialogue may be lost in translation.

What's a cool chick with movie star mascara doing slicing slabs of tuna in Tokyo' Tsukiji fish market? An elderly sound recorder (Min Tanaka) is too polite to probe when he befriends taciturn Ryu (Rinko Kikuchi) at the ramen museum. Anyways, he's only enamored of the slurping sounds she makes when she eats, so he's content to meet for casual meals and visits to anonymous graves. One learns of her other vocation through a montage of hit jobs reminiscent of John Woo's "killer" films.

Ryu gets an assignment from corporate CEO Nagara (Takeo Nakahara) to take out David (Sergi Lopez) a Spanish wine merchant who dated his daughter Midori. Nagara blames David for her suicide -- her dying words scribbled in blood intimating the film's theme. Ryu approaches her target through wine-tasting, but also gets a taste of his incredibly hairy chest in a love hotel room furnished like a train carriage. Then, she does what is considered a big "no, no" in the business, and the rest is noir history.

The potboiler plot (which has almost no action for a film about contract killing) and pseudo-Zen musings on life's inherent heartache exist only to underscore the steamy softcore sex scenes, which are well shot but interrupted by gag-worthy dialogue like "Sit here, on top, in my face, till you warm up."

Kikuchi manages to imbue Ryu's cool, placid exterior with some vulnerability that makes her more human. Less likeable is Lopez, whose portfolio of villainous roles (organ trafficker in "Dirty Pretty Things", wife-batterer in "Solo Mia" and Fascist torturer in "Pan's Labyrinth") casts an aggressive air over his image as a romantic lover. And despite his protestations of love for Midori, there is no back story to their relationship to help one make sense of his ensuing affair with Ryu. Even more disturbing is Coixet's fascination with portraying talented, beautiful women who offer up themselves to validate a conflicted older man (already a subject of her "Elegy.")

Given the film's title, one would expect some dramatic arc or conceptual idea to issue from the sound recorder, or a special treatment of sound or music. Not so. Aside from narrating the film, neither his role nor his recordings of Ryu end up having much bearing on the plot. The sound does not particularly stand out, and the music is a cafe compilation of Latin mood pieces and nostalgic Japanese songs that sometimes borders on kitsch -- like the Japanese rendition of "La Vie en rose" heard during a smooch scene.

The choice of locations -- from a club serving sushi on a nude blonde to traditional diners, from the music mecca of Shimokitazawa to a small shrine nestled against autumn leaves, from pachinko parlors to karaoke cells -- merged with glittering helicopter shots of Tokyo's skyline and night traffic, sticks to the beaten tourist path that underlines the film's pretentious but shallow style.

Competition

Sales: Imagina International Sales
Mediapro, Versatil Cinema
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Sergi Lopez, Min Tanaka, Takeo Nakahara
Director-Screenwriter: Isabel Coixet
Producer: Jaume Roures
Executive producer: Javier MendesDirector of photography: Jean Claude Larrieu
Production designer: Ryo Sugimoto
Costume designer: Tony Crosbie
Editor: Irene Blecua
No rating, 106 minutes
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