Release Date: November 17th, 2018
Duration: 97 mins.
Director: Masaharu Take
Writer: Masaharu Take, Hideki Shishido (Screenplay), Fuminori Nakamura (Original Novel)
Starring: Nijiro Murakami, Alice Hirose, Lily Franky, Kyoko Hinami, Risa Niigaki, Junpei Goto, Moemi Katayama, Amane Okayama,
Masaharu Take has a knack of making good character-driven dramas as exemplified by 100 Yen Love (2015) which cemented Sakura Ando as a real headlining acting talent after she spent years impressing auds with steady work in smaller semi-comedic roles (For Love’s Sake, Love Exposure) and indie dramas (Our Homeland, 0.5mm). This film, an adaptation of a novel, offers Nijiro Murakami (Destruction Babies) a meaty role to make a name for himself.
“Last night, I found a gun.”
The film opens with what appears to be a suicide one rainy night. Blood pours out of a shattered skull onto a rain-sodden riverbank. The titular gun, a .357 Magnum Lawman Mk III, is lying next to the body. The camera caresses its smooth, short, shiny and curved form and soon someone will lavish the same attention on it.
University student Toru Nishikawa (Nijiro Murakami), a nice-looking kid who lives by himself, is the new owner. He seems well-adjusted and self-assured on the surface, and that attracts girls who he has one-night stands with, but soon the gun overtakes everything and reveals a sickness lurking in his personality.
Instead of turning the gun in to the police he takes it home and becomes fixated with it. He gets a sense of euphoria over having it. The sense of possibility and power it confers on him manifests itself in the way he treats it like a venerated object, stroking it, cleaning it and posing with it like Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. His behaviour is something which gives him thrills and the audience chills as his increasingly deranged narration shows his descent into madness and he plots a murder.
Nijiro Murakami’s acting and narration are really good in this regard as his calm demeanour and handsomeness clutch the audience by the elbow and slowly walks them into his head-space where something darker lurks. At first we luxuriate but soon sour over the loveless one-night stands he engages with, the empty friendships with his irritating sex-crazed friend Keisuke (Amane Okayama) and glimpse the meaningless of everything that nihilists see.
Taking place in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward near the Arakawa River, it’s a less glam part of the city with little to distract people from the everyday humdrum aspect of life and there is a general sense of malaise that seems to infect the world fostered by the way the film is shot in a humid summer and almost entirely in black and white to create a claustrophobic atmosphere which is where we see abusive human relations and everyday cruelties brew up. News reports and university studies about violence seen in the film paint an age where people have been inspired to casual violence after losing sight of the preciousness of life and as the narrative lolls forward Toru fixates on a neighbour who beats her child and that Freudian death drive seems to replace the pleasure drive that started the film.
We are shown how, despite having life’s advantages, direction is hard for the kid to find as he is sucked into a whirlpool of emotional darkness and the gun is the gleam of light that he heads towards. Flashbacks he experiences furnish us with a justification for his mental malady as they take us to his time in an orphanage, how the experience has scarred him and his perspective on human relations and Murakami’s performance is superlative as we see Toru compartmentalises everything and detaches himself from life. Toru’s cynicism shows he considers life is cheap, a sense exacerbated by his callowness and pretentiousness so it explains his behaviour from the start and presents a pretty pathetic protagonist who, while unlikeable, does evoke sympathy thanks to Murakami’s layered performance.
As he disassociates from reality and focuses on his obsession over the gun, the film shows him with increasingly violent behaviour and intercuts some idyllic fantasy where its just him and the gun but people try to bring him back to his humanity. A pretty girl on the same campus, Yuko Yoshikawa (Alice Hirose) comes in with a intervention, “I know you are in a fragile state. I really care about you.” A canny detective (Lily Franky) with a parasol whose honesty can be disarming offers him a way out in a tense series of negotiations and some life advice and we, the audience who have entered Toru’s mind, sweat in the claustrophobic atmosphere and gasp over the tension in the film as we wonder whether he will hurt someone else and kill his neighbour…