'Rage': Film Review

Rage - Still - H - 2016
Courtesy Edko Films
A strong identity thriller undermined by sexual violence.

Ken Watanabe and Satoshi Tsumabuki headline the latest thriller from Korean-Japanese director Lee Sang-il.

Three different men in three different parts of Japan could each be a wanted killer — or not — in Rage, the latest from Korean-Japanese director Lee Sang-il. A slow-burning thriller populated with the disaffected and marginalized and complemented by a hint of simmering violence, the film is comfortably within Lee’s wheelhouse, in a similar vein to his 2007 breakout 69 and 2010’s award-winning Villain. A nearly seamless narrative and a clutch of strong performances led by Ken Watanabe keep Rage moving at a decent clip until some last-act hysteria nearly derails the measured, observant storytelling that came before. Familiar stars and Lee’s brand should make Rage a moderate hit in Asia-Pacific and carry it to respectable art house box office overseas, with festival play a given.

Rage is broken down into three unrelated parts, save for the fact that a character from each segment could be the prime suspect in a brutal double murder being investigated by Detective Nanjo (Pierre Taki, Attack on Titan). After we see the aftermath of the killings, which involve the word “rage” scrawled in blood on a wall, a television-assisted manhunt kicks off across Japan.

In Chiba, Yohei Maki (Watanabe, who starred in Lee’s spin on Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven) rescues his daughter, Aiko (Aoi Miyazaki, The Great Passage), from life as an exploited sex worker. As she starts to reacclimate to life in a small fishing village, she turns her affection toward a new-in-town drifter, Tashiro (Kenichi Matsuyama, Chasuke’s Journey). In Tokyo, closeted salaryman Yuma (Satoshi Tsumabuki, Lee’s Villain) forcefully picks up nervous bathhouse visitor Naoto (Go Ayano, The Snow White Murder Case) and finds himself slowly becoming genuinely attached to the enigmatic young man — so much so he introduces him to his terminally ill mother. Finally, in Okinawa, the freshly relocated Izumi (Suzu Hirose, Our Little Sister) and her shy suitor Tatsuya (Takara Sakumoto) stumble upon yet another drifter, Tanaka (Mirai Moriyama, Human Trust), squatting at a war ruin. He’s as fun and gregarious as he is mysterious.

The premise is a clever one, lending itself well to a story predicated on perception, the lies (or truths) we tell and don’t tell each other, and what we choose to believe. Even the sillier elements — chiefly that the prime suspect is believed to have had plastic surgery to disguise himself — are forgivable, as Lee, adapting prize-winning writer Shuichi Yoshida’s 2014 novel Ikari, expertly weaves together the disparate elements and keeps us guessing as to which man, if any, is a killer (Lee gets significant help from editor Tsuyoshi Ima on this front).

Less forgivable is a story fundamentally propelled by sexual assault. Aiko has clearly been liberated from an abusive job; the crucial plot point in Okinawa is Izumi’s rape by an American G.I.; and in perhaps the most twisted spin on gender equality ever, Naoto and Yuma’s “relationship” is founded on the idea that if you rape someone enough, eventually he’ll love you. It goes without saying that the crimes perpetrated against Aiko and Izumi are there for Maki, Tatsuya and Tanaka’s personal growth.

Despite that troubling convention, Rage’s low-key tension and unrelenting tone of doubt get under the skin (even if the film drags in the final stretch). Watanabe is suitably distraught as the frantic father afraid his daughter is heading for more trouble, and Tsumabuki brings a reckless charm to his role as a gay man battling his own form of identity disguise; his suspicion of Naoto says more about him than it does about his lover.

Technically, the film is utterly professional, with photography of diverse locations by Lee regular Norimichi Kasamatsu and a typically masterful score by Ryuichi Sakamoto standing out.

Production company: Toho
Cast: Ken Watanabe, Aoi Miyazaki, Kenichi Matsuyama, Chizuru Ikewaki, SatoshiTsumabuki, Go Ayano, Hideko Hara, Mitsuki Takahata, Mirai Moriyama, Suzu Hirose, Takara Sakumoto, Pierre Taki
Director: Lee Sang-il
Screenwriter: Lee Sang-il, based on the book by Shuichi Yoshida
Producers: Shinnosuke Usui,
Genki Kawamura
Executive producer:
Akihiro Yamuchi
Director of photography: Norimichi Kasamatsu
Production designer:
Yuji Tsuzuki, Ayako Sakahara
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Tsuyoshi Ima
World sales: Toho

In Japanese

No rating, 141 minutes