OK, I must admit that I only watched this film because Gary Oldman is my favourite actor. He plays Holtzer, the head of the CIA branch in Tokyo. His team is hunting for a memory stick rumoured to have proof of the corruption of top Japanese officials. They believe it to be in the hands of John Rain (Kippei Shiina), a hired assassin who specialises in making it appear as though his victims have died of natural causes. Unfortunately, the Yakuza are also trying to get their hands on the memory stick and have sent some men after Rain to retrieve it.
This action thriller is mostly in Japanese with subtitles but some parts are in English (no, Gary Oldman hasn’t learned the lingo so he can rant at people in another language, which would have been very entertaining). It is based on the first of a number of novels by Barry Eisler that centre around the character of John Rain. In the film, I found him hard to like, as we don’t learn much about him. His motivation for protecting Midori (the daughter of the man he killed to obtain the memory stick) isn’t clear, and his tale of how he was bullied in New York because he was the only Asian kid seems a bit forced, as if the writer is trying to convince us to like him.
The memory stick becomes a bit of a MacGuffin, driving the narrative along, with the many interested parties all vying to get hold of it. In films such as Hitchcock’s, where the MacGuffin is used to great effect, this leaves way for great story and characters. Here, however, it becomes obvious that this is just an overlong film; with characters we don’t really care about and without much action or suspense to entertain us.
On a more positive note, there are some moments of stylish editing and nicely lit scenes in the film. A recurring motif has characters framed in the centre of a long shot, standing conversing in shadow with bright scenery behind them, which contrasts well and emphasises the secret discussions that are taking place, while those in the city continue their lives oblivious.
The film seems keen to comment on the amount of CCTV in Tokyo. The centre of operations for the CIA is a room filled with people at computers and monitors covering the walls, showing surveillance footage from all over the city. Rain is tracked from camera to camera, unable to avoid them whenever he steps out onto the street. And it is here that Gary Oldman spends much of the film, shouting orders at people both inside and out in the field. He becomes increasingly frustrated that although he is the all-seeing, powerful leader, Rain continues to evade him and slips through his net on a number of occasions. Oldman isn’t given much to work with as Holtzer, it would have been more effective to put the audience on the CIA’s side for a while, believing Rain was a terrorist, before turning things on their head and revealing the CIA’s corruption. As it is, we just see him working late in his office, with its impressive views of Tokyo’s skyscrapers. The only time we see him not working is his final scene, so we don’t get to see a human side to him: he’s just a driven man devoted to his job, whose only interest is catching Rain and getting the memory stick.
By the end of the film, the action has slowed and the story has become a little dull, with the addition of a twist livening things up just enough for it to edge over the finishing line without me losing interest. I was left with the feeling that there was a really promising film in there somewhere but it just missed the mark.
Director: Max Mannix
Stars: Kippei Shiina, Gary Oldman, Kyoko Hasegawa
Runtime: 111 min