Though it starts with a close-up of dead air on a TV screen, "The Frame" isn't another Japanese psycho-thriller in the mold of "The Ring." Instead, pic is an engrossing, cleverly constructed mystery-drama about a manipulative TV news editor who finally gets a taste of her own medicine. This adaptation of Hisashi Nozawa's controversial 1997 novel about media abuse and the line between manipulation and malice is an intelligent, commercial blend that deserves festival and small-screen play.

Though it starts with a close-up of dead air on a TV screen, “The Frame” isn’t another Japanese psycho-thriller in the mold of “The Ring.” Instead, pic is an engrossing, cleverly constructed mystery-drama about a manipulative TV news editor who finally gets a taste of her own medicine. This adaptation of Hisashi Nozawa’s controversial 1997 novel about media abuse and the line between manipulation and malice is an intelligent, commercial blend that deserves festival and small-screen play.

Helmer Satoshi Isaka’s vid-shot debut, “[Focus],” dealt with many of the same concerns, though in an indie, low-budget way that restricted the result to fests. “The Frame” is pitched at mainstream auds, with a name actress in the lead and good production values throughout.

Hardly recognizable from her romantic role in the 1997 smash hit “Lost Paradise,” Hitomi Kuroki plays Yuko, an almost demonically possessed, ice-cool TV editor with a rep for tweaking images beyond the boundaries of fair play and truth, with no thought for the lives she wrecks. Outside work, she lives a solitary life as a divorcee, poring over news clippings when she’s not trying to communicate with her estranged young son.

One day, Yuko is approached by a man (Akira Shirai) from the PTT Ministry who offers her video proof that a university is bribing people in the ministry to overlook its huge media acquisitions, and has already killed one investigator. Yuko broadcasts the material, which points the figure at another ministry man, Aso (Takanori Jinnai). His career ruined, Aso proves to Yuko how she was set up by the PTT man; he then embarks on a campaign of calculated harassment, following her around and videotaping her, the boot now on the other foot.

Two possibilities emerge: Yuko was framed from the start (by either the ministry or the university) in an attempt to discredit her, or Aso is playing the victim in an attempt to deflect suspicion from himself. Either way, Yuko becomes more deeply entwined in the kind of manipulation that is her specialty.

Pic’s dramatic tension comes as much from the twists and turns of the plot, and forceful playing of the two leads, as from Isaka’s direction, which is visually acute without underlining the thriller elements. Both scary and touching, Kuroki is excellent as the wild-eyed, steely-nerved TV type with no life outside her profession, and Jinnai is very good as Aso, in whom she meets her match.

The Frame

(JAPAN)

Production

A Super Vision Prod. production, in association with Asmik Ace Entertainment, Kinema Junposha Co., Environment Art Laboratory Co., Forward Group. (International sales: Asmick Ace, Tokyo.) Produced by Takahiro Iwashita. Executive producer, Yoshiyuki Ohira. Directed by Satoshi Isaka. Screenplay, Hisashi Nozawa, based on his novel. Camera (color), Tetsuro Sano; editor, Junichi Kikuchi; music, Tsukasa Tawada; art director, Iwao Saito; sound, Yoshitaka Imai. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 15, 2000. (Also in Rotterdam, Santa Barbara film festivals.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With

With: Hitomi Kuroki, Tetsuo Yamashita, Toshio Kakei, Takanori Jinnai, Akira Shirai, Saburo Shinoda, Takeo Nakahara, Kanta Tsutsumi, Kunio Hatoyama, Atsuo Nakamura, Naomi Akimoto, Kumiko Oba, Takuro Tatsumi, Akira Nakao.
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