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"Angel Dust" is about a woman who is seeking a killer. The killer strikes
every Monday night at 6:00 pm. The killer targets young women, killing them
with a lethal injection in a public place. The woman seeking the killer is a
brilliant psychologist who allows the killer's traits to enter her mind and
as she begins to think like him, she can use this to trap him. It's a
classic set-up and one that's been done before.
In "Angel Dust" it's done with a flair not felt in the cinema for a long time. With careful attention to how imagery can shape the psychological thriller, (the film looks as if it were shot in black and white in the rain and then given to a child to color vibrantly with a 64-pack of crayolas) the film has a mood that is unshakeable. The film is not merely disturbing, but eerie. It's aura is not really reminiscent of too many American films - though some of the themes, such as brain washing ("The Manchurian Candidate") and psychologist getting to close to a killer ("Manhunter") feel familiar - but are done in a deeply original fashion. Watching the film is no easy task either. It's brutally methodical, leading the viewer on an excessive mind game, trying to figure out who's lying to who and who the killer is becomes nearly painful - keep some aspirin handy. The film's real trick is that it's story is ambiguous and has a wifty editing style. The movie can move as quickly as an action picture and then stop, on a dime, to examine something for up to 15 minutes - very succinctly, very carefully and very, very cinematically.
Pulling the threads together reveals that there's a bitter purpose to everything in the film's world. It's creepy and heavy as Stoudt, but none of the negative things I've hinted at are flaws in any way. All are there for a reason. This is one of the best crime films I've ever seen. It's absolutely stunning.
This is one of the best, best, BEST films I've ever seen. Really blew
me away. Hard to describe what makes it work so well, though, so bear
with me here. Nearly every scene had me just saying to myself, "This is
brilliant." A very slow, moody, subtle, mostly-silent work for a lot of
its length, so the moments of screaming and insanity will really break
your mind to pieces if you're paying close attention. There's a lot
going on here, a lot to take in, and probably a lot lost in
translation. No matter, the atmosphere, the amazing/insane editing, and
the dialogue -- which goes from oddly philosophical to philisophically
odd -- is mindblowing.
A cold, disconnected, existentialist treat for the senses.
If you've come across the VHS of Angel Dust in your local rental store,
you've probably seen the promo material refer to it as "The Japanese
Silence of the Lambs." It's really not, however. Yes, the two films
share a basic plot: an attractive female detective/ psychologist tracks
a serial killer while tapping into the talents of a manipulative mentor
type to help get into the killer's mind in order to catch him. But the
similarities pretty much end there. There are elements of a whodunit
and we get just enough police procedural to keep us on track, but those
expecting a big-star Hollywood type production like Silence of the
Lambs, or a trendy, graphic thriller like Tell Me Something will
probably be disappointed.
However, if you enjoy the psychological aspects of a hunt for a serial killer; think that a secluded brainwashing clinic can be a creepy setting; and appreciate mood, atmosphere, and symbolism over jump scenes and gore, then I suggest that you seek out this little-known film.
Every Monday at 6:00 PM a 20-something girl drops dead right in the middle of the crowded Tokyo subway. The killer's predictability is more than offset by his elusiveness. Meanwhile, we are introduced to our detective, Setsuko Suma. Described as an "analyst on abnormal criminal personalities," she seems to be a cross between a psychic and a empath and is driven to get into the mind of the killer in order to stop him. However, Suma is no confident and strong Clarice Starling. In fact, she is barely hanging on to her sanity, and we get the feeling that the efforts of the investigation just might tip her over the edge, if not kill her. Suma has frequent nightmares and fugue states. In these she finds herself descending into a cave (her nightmares? her memories? a trap from which there is no escape?). The symbolism is effective.
To complicate matters, her investigation leads her to a former mentor and lover (Rei Aku), a mysterious renegade psychologist who has set up a "reverse brainwashing" clinic known as a "Re-freezing Psychorium." We aren't quite sure if the mind games he draws Suma into serve the purpose of helping her in her quest, or something more diabolical. In any event he is always several steps ahead of her and she finds herself psychologically and emotionally at his mercy once he gets into her head.
Something that impressed me greatly about Angel Dust was the visual style and the director's stylistic touches. The look of the film is grainy and washed out. The Tokyo of Angel Dust is bleak and full of urban decay that hangs like an oppressive weight over everything. The color palette tends toward sepia and a pale industrial green that will have you thinking about basement cafeterias, hospital corridors, and flickering fluorescent lighting.
We are treated to some interesting visuals, and I firmly believe the sound editor must be a genius. (I can hear you saying it now--"Oh great...he's going off on the sound editing, that's like telling me the sister has a great personality"). No, no, really. It's very effective, including the use of an atonal synthesizer that really complements the production design.
In sum, well worth the effort to seek out if you are in the mood for something different from the typical Hollywood fare.
"Angel Dust" starts with macroscopic shots of nighttime Tokyo.
Seemingly endless but ingenious montage, somewhat as if Teshigahara
tried to do a megalopolis, drops us gradually to a single subway
station, then to a single female figure just as she falls. Precisely
the bit of screen occupied by this fall becomes the mouth of a cave.
The next cut is to spelunkers, but, if only because I'd just finished
the "Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" section of Rubin's monograph on Murakami,
I felt for a half a second as if the subway victim had slipped down a
surreal hole in the platform. There's a hole, too, later, in the b/w
dialog of the re-brainwash patient. Since Murakami's also author of the
interview tomes abridged here as "Underground", it's necessary to note
this film's dated 1994. The final Aum incident hit March 1995. Even if
you've seen "Angel Dust," it might pay to watch just after a reading of
"Underground." Director Sogo Ishii at a PFA appearance a year or two
ago expressed some embarrassment over his film's prescience. Mt. Fuji
appears three or four times in the film, filling nearly the whole
screen like a national marker, a reminder. I don't pretend to know of
what, but the final time, nearly the film's last shot, Fuji's an
ominously dark pre-dawn silhouette.
A little after that first killing, much of the city now aware of the subway serial killer, one of a couple of wise-guy salary men (or maybe they're plainclothesmen, doesn't matter) asks the other, "If you were the killer, who here would you pick?" "Her!" The camera zooms to his choice. Cut to a news sheet photo of the same face. He picked the next victim! What were the odds? But he's nobody, not even a red herring, just a dope. Here the film crosses Stanislaw Lem's "The Investigation." Was there really something about the victim? Or did ninety-nine other such dopes, elsewhere in the subway system guess wrongly? Still later, our protagonist, Setsuko, picks a subsequent victim and, in a scene echoed by the concert night murder in "...Lily Chou Chou ," pursues her through throngs heading toward a domed entertainment venue. Did Setsuko really psych the killer, or did the killer simply comply this time with her choice? Setsuko's ex, Aku: "There's not always a single answer. Some people look only for a unique answer." Again, this is Lem territory.
Setsuko is an odd, very careful concoction: bobbed hair, little suits always buttoned, nearly always a wide-eyed straight ahead gaze. I tried to catch her blinking. No luck. If you think you recognize her new-age-y husband, he's both the funnily wise friend from "Love Letter" and the self-defeatingly compliant husband from "Undo." Angel Dust's music is perfect, perfectly synched, percussive, modern, vaguely traditional.
Another touchpoint? "Pygmalion," any version. Setsuko is Liza. Her Higgins is an enigma. I don't know whether he's evil. Ishii also directed "The Crazy Family," which could be point three in a four point progression beginning with whichever Ozu you choose, proceeding to "The Family Game,"and ending, at least for the moment, with "Visitor Q."
Innovative, tense and unnerving tale that is also very stylish, with inspired visuals, imaginative use of sound and spectacular editing. It is also a little confusing upon first viewing but it is clear by the end that everything did make sense. An intelligent work that deals with gender/work issues, psychological make up and it's consequences plus the question of dealing with cult 'victims'. In short a lot of ground is covered and it should not be forgotten that this is still a rattling good yarn involving a serial killer who acts each Monday on a Tokyo underground line at 6.00 pm. Setsuko is called in to help police with the case, she having had experience in the field and,, it turns out, worked rather closely with another certain gentleman who we meet a little later. The b/w security camera sequences shot in his clinic are possibly a little long but it is fearsome stuff
The difficulty with rating movies is the different genres that they come in. This problem is enhanced when the film comes from a different country where the aesthetic is different. Art is perceived from alternative perceptions. The key is looking at film from the perception of the artist. Angel Dust is a superior movie. Its lack of sound/music during the movie and long moments of silence can be frustrating but taken as a whole things like that make it a movie above the rest. No car crashes or explosions just a heady movie. If you like to do a lot of thinking and "figuring out" watch this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very good film about a serial killer in Tokyo who is committing his crimes by injecting young women with poison from a hypodermic syringe. Because the locations he chooses for his crimes in this huge metropolitan area are so densely packed with people it's extremely hard for the police to identify who this person actually is. And barring his identity and motives the body count rises. Anyway, one of the things that I believe makes this movie so interesting is the exotic location and the culture. But even so there are a lot of nuances involved as well. I especially liked "Dr. Setsumo Suma" (Kaho Minami) as the specialist called in to help investigate the murders. Definitely a beauty. At any rate, because this film is so complicated I won't bother getting into any of the specifics but I will say that if you like a good crime-drama and don't mind English subtitles then this might be a movie you will really enjoy. Above average.
Angel Dust is engagingly stylish and has some really cool concepts even though it tends toward tedium in some places.
This film is worthwhile. Encompassing a Scientology-like brainwashing/deprogramming treadmill, some haunting urban portraiture, a really hot Scully-like criminal psychologist and details of her personal life with an androgyne husband, Angel Dust covers a lot of interesting ground, though it bogs down now and again. The cinematography is mostly gorgeous, but tends to detour into annoying visual noodling (an extended sequence of images flashing from a slide projector in particular put me off.)
A question for Japanese freak cinema enthusiasts: I know that cult actor Tomoro Toguchi does a small, subtle, slapstick cameo in Angel Dust (the guy in a uniform carrying a heavy potted plant up a flight of stairs,) but who plays the smugly pious cult leader? He's only on screen for about two seconds, but I thought I saw a very familiar face. (I saw it at a theater so I couldn't rewind, and only some of the credits were in English.)
There are few movies as original as Angel Dust, especially in the realm of thrillers with hoary cliches, transparent plot turns, and questionable endings. Billed as both a Usual Suspects-style stumper and a Silence Of The Lambs-style thriller, Angel Dust sports a plot which climbs a tension ladder masterfully, pausing long enough between rungs to entertain a host of solution theories -- usually presented by lead police investigator Suma's partners -- and examinations of Suma's method of investigation. Complications abound in Suma's case, and, as with The Big Lebowski, we only know what the protagonist knows. (In other words: the whats, not so many of the whys.) As Suma's case progresses unevenly, waiting for the payoff might frustrate; the solution stays at arm's length throughout the movie, but the cinematography and editing are pristine (the waltzing cuts in Suma's reunion with ex-boyfriend/research partner/current suspect rule! RULE!), getting you through the first viewing as well as repeats. The plot thankfully holds up to scrutiny as well, though the details trickily come in clumps (hard on Suma as well as the viewer). My only beef with director Ishii is that while Suma is deftly depicted early on as an unconventional, instinctual investigator with a bizarre lifestyle, we still have to see her puffing away in no-smoking zones a la Martin Riggs. We get it -- she lives on her own planet. At any rate, Angel Dust is a must-see lesson in treatment of fringe characters, deliberate but graceful plot movement, economy of dialogue, use/absence of sound, and mind-mangling psychological tension (with little onscreen violence). Yay! Also check out March Comes In Like A Lion, Junk Food, Maboroshi, Audition.
Very reminiscent of Dario Argento's films without being anywhere near as violent. The story is somewhat muddled but the cinematography is amazing. The film's many weak points are overcome by an incredible look and feel and atmosphere. Like the recent anime Perfect Blue the problems with the story only bother you when it's over, while you're watching it the atmosphere carries you along.
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