Glossy production values and a witty beginning clash with a narrative scramble in the espionage thriller "The Code."

Glossy production values and a witty beginning clash with a narrative scramble in the espionage thriller “The Code.” After tube work and producing ventures (“Akame 48 Waterfalls,” the Maiku Hama series), Kaizo Hayashi’s first directorial effort since “Cat’s Eye” (1997) embraces film-noir story mechanics in its tale of Japanese secret agents in China, but crucially lacks the emotional despair of touchstone “The Lady From Shanghai.” Pic will garner admirers at Asian or fantasy fests, but other berths will prove elusive.

A funny pre-credits sequence about a bomb scare introduces Japan’s byzantine “Detective Office 5″ and its efficient, black-suited, trilby-wearing agents. At the organization’s center is code-breaker Detective 507 (Kikunosuke Onoe), who is dispatched to Shanghai to unlock a vault full of loot squirreled away by the occupying Japanese army in WWII. The code is tattooed on the back of nightclub singer Meilan (Izumi Inamori), whom 507 must protect from aging soldiers, distrustful informants and a tangled storyline that unfortunately begins to take itself seriously. Thesps are marooned by helmer’s noirish posturing, but bored auds will admire gorgeous production design and luscious lensing. Tech credits are also classy.

The Code

Japan

Production

A Nikkatsu presentation of a Code Project production. (International sales: Dreamkid, Tokyo.) Produced by Hiroki Ohwada, Yasushi Minatoya. Directed by Kaizo Hayashi. Screenplay, Hayashi, Tomihiko Tokunaga, Shinji Kuma, based on a story by Hayashi.

Crew

Camera (color), Takahide Shibanushi; editor, Tsuyoshi Imai; music, Meyna; production designer, Etsuko Aiko, Yuji Kasamura. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Japanese Eyes), Oct. 20, 2008. Japanese, Mandarin dialogue. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Kikunosuke Onoe, Izumi Inamori, Shunsuke Matsuoka, Yusuke Saito, Tei Ryushin, Joe Shishido, Hiroki Matsukata.
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