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Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Full-speed ahead into cinematic chaos


Rating: * * Director: Takehisa Zeze Running time: 110 minutes Language: Japanese Now playing at Cine Amuse in Shibuya

Takehisa Zeze's "Rush" is a reviewer's ultimate nightmare: a film whose plot is all but impossible to follow, let alone describe. Walking out of the theater, I laughed -- it was either that or bang my head against the door in despair.

Sho Aikawa, Toshiro Yanagiba and Kim Yunjin in "Rush"

It would be easy to dismiss the story (the pursuit by various shady types of 50 million yen in cold, hard Fukuzawas) as a stunt. It not only reels back and forth in time, but exists in alternate universes. It seems to describe a circle, only the end of the loop veers off in a different direction. One is in the world of an Escher print, where up staircases go down and logic takes a holiday.

There are precedents for this sort of thing. Popular role-playing games like Final Fantasy may have story lines, but they allow players to wander at will through their virtual landscapes, while selecting their own weapons, allies and battle strategies. Certain books in the best-selling "Goosebumps" series let young readers choose their own "scare" among several possible plot twists. And in the real world inhabited by American and even a few Japanese "bobos" (so-called bohemian bourgeoisie), everyone is busy juggling options, from sexual partners to careers, while studiously avoiding the linear lives of their parents.

So why can't a movie go from point Z to point A -- or even leap off the grid entirely, if it wants?

Zeze, a former "king of the pinks" who has moved successfully to the world of indie filmmaking, intends to shake up stale genre conventions, while having a blast in the bargain. He also wants to make points about the plastic nature of reality and the common language of the human heart, which unites us in the midst of chaos and change.

But the one-damn-thing-after-another approach is wearing, like a shaggy dog story that loses its point long before it reaches its end. Midway through, I found myself drifting into a state of dreamy confusion, as though I were getting a glimpse of the world as seen by a dementia patient. Not the reaction you want from what is essentially a caper film.

Shall we plunge into the maelstrom? Three employees of a rich Korean restaurant owner -- a quarreling Korean couple up to their eyebrows in debt and a blond-haired former punk (Sho Aikawa) with a larcenous soul -- dream up a scheme to kidnap his daughter (Kim Yunjin). Fortunately for them, said daughter, Soo Yong, despises the old man for abandoning her and her mother in Korea to make his fortune in Dainippon.

There is one problem, however: She speaks fluent English but zero Japanese, while the ex-punk, Masaya, is determinedly (I almost wrote "patriotically") monolingual.

The restaurant owner ponies up 50 million yen for the ransom but is whacked by Naruse (Ren Osugi), a crooked police detective, before he can deliver it. When the kidnappers arrive they find a body, hear a siren and find themselves in a trap, while Naruse wonders at his great good luck. They make their escape on motorbikes and pass a salaryman (Toshiro Yanagiba) in a taxi, arguing with his wife on a cellphone.

Said salaryman soon happens upon said wife at a hotel with her flame-haired gigolo lover (Koji Chihara). A fight begins, ends in farce, and wife leaves for Tokyo in disgust. Salaryman and gigolo, now confederates of a sort, hook up with a foreign professional wrestler (Hanihoh Henihah) who has won a bundle gambling and wants someone to blow it with. Unlikely trio spend a bundle on hostesses, karaoke-singing, bungee-jumping and other fun activities.

In the morning, the gigolo drives off in his red convertible with one of the hostesses (Kimiko Aso) and is promptly pinched by Ando (Hiroshi Abe), a detective with an itchy trigger finger who thinks they are the kidnappers. To disabuse him, the gigolo leads him back to his two abandoned buddies. A blood bath ensues -- but the money has disappeared. Where did it go? Time to wind the story back, folks.

In an earlier time (another dimension?) Soo Yong and Masaya escape the clutches of the cops, only to wind up in a cop car, with the murderous Ando at the wheel. They stuff him in the trunk, find a briefcase full of cash and head off to a hideout to plot their next move. Though the language barrier prevents much plotting, they do discover a certain meeting of the minds and hearts. But Ando and Naruse, now in league, are in hot pursuit. And so it goes.

If this plot summary seems to make a modicum of sense, it is not the fault of the film, which scrambles time and plot lines with the thoroughness of a salad chef tossing greens. The Japanese actors, led by OV ("original video") icon Sho Aikawa, play this farrago mainly for laughs, as they should. Korean star Kim Yunjin, known to Japanese audiences from the action megahit "Shuri," keeps the film from floating away into the ether with a sexy, solidly grounded performance. But what, I wondered, made her decide on "Rush" as her Japanese screen debut? Perhaps the script makes more sense in Korean, or perhaps she has a twisted sense of humor.

In any case, if you decide "Rush" is for you, ingest a stiff jolt of caffeine before the screening -- and leave your left brain at the door.

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