Review: ‘The Trap’

Hapless Yokohama p.i. Maiku Hama is back in another seriocomic adventure, his third, supposedly last, and weakest --- though director Kaizo Hayashi's series still offers some stylish diversion. Despite the expected hip, idiosyncratic air, offshore prospects look minor. Still operating out of an office behind a movie theater's projection booth, Maiku Hama (Masatoshi Nagase) is unusually flush at this chapter's start. Biz is good, and he's got a steady girlfriend in the mute Yuriko (Yui Natsukawa), whose fervent Christianity provides just a minor stumbling block.

But a new case inevitably pulls Maiku into its web. Women are being found around the city, their lifeless, evidently poisoned bodies festooned with elaborate makeup and full-length floral dresses. Worse, Maiku’s own fingerprints are being planted on evidence. We soon suspect a connection to Mikki (Nagase again), a retarded teen whom Yuriko befriends at her church-volunteer job. Mikki’s sister and caretaker, Mizuki (Tomoko Yamaguchi), becomes the obvious key. A well-liked factory worker by day, she moonlights abducting young women in a twisted ritual whose full import is revealed after much mayhem.

All this treads rather close to conventional, distasteful sexploitation-thrillerdom, complete with Freddy Krueger-type getup and an absurd, attenuated “surprise” climax in a drainage tunnel. Use of schizophrenia as a plot device feels retro, in the mode of umpteen lurid 1960s “Psycho” rip-offs. Hard to swallow for different reasons is the syrupy romance with ever-imperiled Yuriko, whose disability makes her as patly angelic as Mikki’s at last renders him demonic.

Nonetheless, pic remains watchable — albeit sans the overall bravado of Maiku Hama’s debut in “The Most Terrible Time of My Life,” or the stylistic highs of subsequent “Stairway to the Distant Past.” Brief, quick-cut yellow-tinted sequences (supposedly showing Mikki’s thought patterns) are striking.

As in earlier adventures, Maiku himself gets surprisingly modest screen time. Best supporting characters are comic, with a promising new figure in earnest young police detective Kozu (Tetsuta Sugimoto), who has the ill luck to be partnered with Maiku’s old police nemesis, Nakayama (Akaji Maro). Latter’s bottomless sour-mash bluster is summed up by the comment, “While I was drunk this country’s gone to the dogs!”

Perfs are good, pacing OK, wide-screen color lensing sharp. Yet the perfunctory feel “Trap” emits compared with its predecessors suggests director/co-writer Hayashi may be well finished with this planned trilogy.

The Trap

Japanese

Production

A For Life Records presentation of an Ace Pictures production. Produced by Shunsuke Koga, Kaizo Hayashi, Tsutomu Sakurai. Executive producer, Yutaka Goto. Directed by Kaizo Hayashi. Screenplay, Hayashi, Dasuke Tengai.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Yuichi Nagata; editor, Nombuko Tomita; lighting, Meicho Tomiyama; music, Meina Co.; production design, Takeo Kimura; costumes, Masae Miyamoto. Reviewed at AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco, April 2, 1997. (In S.F. Film Festival.) Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Hama Maiku/ Mikki ...Masatoshi Nagase Yuriko... Yui Natsukawa Mizuki... Tomoko Yamaguchi Hoshino... Kiyotaka Nanbara Kozu ...Tetsuta Sugimoto Joe Shishido ...Himself Father... Shiro Sano Akane... Mika Omine Nakayama... Akaji Maro
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