The making of this large-scale Japanese production — which is based on the work of thriller writer Edogawa Rampo (1894-1965), whose books were often banned in the ’30s — has been extremely problematic, but this version of the film, directed mainly by executive producer Kazuyoshi Okuyama, is certainly exciting and impressive, and should have a fest and arthouse future.
Pic started out under the direction of Rentaro Mayuzumi, but was taken over by Okuyama after he rejected Mayuzumi’s version; the exec producer, who had never directed before, reshot 60% of the pic. Interestingly, both versions have been offered to Japanese exhibs for pic’s June release, with distrib Shochiku leaving individual exhibs with the choice of which “Rampo” to book.
Pic starts out, per an opening title, in a Japan that has embarked on the path to war, with a scene of the author’s latest tome being banned by the authorities.
Later, he’s amazed to discover that a man has been killed in a manner he described in the banned book: suffocated in his wife’s nagamochi, or treasure chest. Rampo meets the widow, Shizuko, and discovers to his astonishment that she’s a dead ringer for the fictional heroine he’s imagined.
He immediately starts writing a sequel, featuring Shizuko as a woman trapped in the home of a kinky marquis who screens porno movies while ravishing her. Rampo has his detective, Kogoro Akechi (who was the Japanese equivalent of Sherlock Holmes), rescue the damsel in distress, but fiction and reality blend in the bizarre climax.
Okuyama handles this strange, Gothic tale at a breakneck pace, using computer animation to enhance the explosive climax. Pic is a lot of fun, with full-blooded perfs, great set and costume design, a fine music score and tight editing.
It will be interesting to see original film when it, too, is screened.
The overseas version screened in Cannes opens with a brief narration by Bruce Joel Rubin (scripter of “Ghost”). The porno footage looks too hot to pass Japanese censors, unless things have changed radically since “The Crying Game” paved the full-frontal way.
Pic was made to celebrate the centenary of Rampo’s birth and, coincidentally, the centenary of the establishment of the Shochiku Co. and of cinema itself. Opening shots consist of vintage archive footage shot in Japan.