Japanese director Junji Sakamoto’s “Tokarev” spins a riveting tale of a mild-mannered suburbanite driven to kamikaze-like extremes by his obsessive desire for revenge. Invigorated by stylish direction, startling shifts in rhythm and a cataclysmic final showdown, this steely, incendiary thriller could slay its share of victims in uptown urban situations with the right push.
Still legally manufactured in Russia and China, the Tokarev gun (with the firepower of a Magnum .45) was originally designed for the Soviet military in 1930. Outlawed in Japan, it continues to figure in criminal circles.
The weapon is used here to hold up a bus load of cheerful tykes. Helpless driver Michio (former Japanese middleweight boxing champ Takeshi Yamato) looks on while his son, Takashi, is snatched by the masked bandit. A neighbor, Matsumura (Koichi Sato), appears at the crime scene, apparently wounded by the kidnapper, who took off on his motorbike.
The kidnapping operation comes as a galvanizing jolt after a tranquil, almost dialogue-free opening, tracking snatches of routine daily life in Michio’s neighborhood.
A video arrives in which Takashi himself relays the demand for 10 million yen. The ransom is handed over, but the boy turns up dead in a rubbish bag. Michio and his wife, Ayako (Yumi Nishiyama), are annihilated by the loss, and the sudden gap in their lives causes marital friction.
Watching a video of Takashi at a school sports meet, Michio spots Matsumura studying his son. His suspicions aroused, he approaches the neighbor, and in another stunning lurch from a measured, static pace to feverish action, he gets a severe pummeling and a mouthful of Tokarev for his trouble.
Michio miraculously survives the bullet wound but gives cops false information and further alienates his wife, preferring to track Matsumura himself.
Psychological twists are as bizarre as they are unpredictable, with the characters’ impulsive behavior well played by a cast that invests heavily in piercing gazes and strong silences. Tension is strung out to maximum effect with the aid of Shigeru Umebayashi’s somber synth music, a diverse bag of editing tricks and some gorgeous slow-motion work.