novelist Aki Akahori’s Inspector Takabe is like a Japanese Maigret, but her
life is about to turn into a Mary Higgins Clark novel, except darker. A chance
encounter with a seductive stranger leads to more intrigue than Akahori
bargained for in Dave Boyle’s Man from
the best narrative award winner at the 2014 L.A. Film Festival, screens as part
of this year’s Japan Cuts: the New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film.
Takabe rules the Japanese bestseller lists, Akahori is uncomfortable with her
success. Tired of her celebrity status, she deserts her publicity tour, taking
refuge in San Francisco, where she once went to school. In her hotel, she meets
a handsome Japanese tourist from Reno, or so she deduces. She did not have a
tryst in mind, but she eventually yields to his charms. However, just when
things start heating up, he precipitously vanishes. Even more disconcerting are
the total strangers who suddenly want to take a quick look-see in her room.
north of town, Paul Del Moral, the sheriff of San Marco, is also searching for
a Japanese man. In this case, it is the individual he accidentally hit during
severe fog-in, who up and left the hospital in an equally rash manner. Soon a
dead body turns up in San Marco who seems to have some connection to the fellow
Del Moral dubbed “Running Man.” Inevitably, Del Moral’s investigation will lead
him to the increasingly uneasy Akahori.
Reno represents a
quantum step up for Boyle, whose previous films, like White on Rice, have been largely classifiable as romantic comedies.
His frequent collaborator Hiroshi Watanabe is also back in the fold, but this
time around he plays a strictly serious supporting role. Instead, Ayako
Fujitani and veteran character actor Pepe Serna take star turns as Akahori and
Del Moral, respectively. Expect to see more of them because they both make
major statements with their smart, charismatic, yet understated performances.
thrillers go, Reno (co-written by
Boyle, Joel Clark, and Michael Lerman) has several fresh twists and it nicely captures
the between-worlds vibe of the expatriate lifestyle. Technically polished, Richard
Wong’s evocatively noir cinematographer also heightens the tension during
several key scenes.
Murkier than one might expect, Reno is an effective somewhat romantic
suspenser that never rushes to tip its hand. However, it even more appealing to
see a film anchored by people who look like Akahori and Del Moral. Granted, Fujitani
is a beautiful woman, but in a mature, cerebral manner. Likewise, Serna is
wonderfully grizzled, in a confidence-inspiring way. They are terrific,
carrying the film relay-style during their many solo scenes. Highly
recommended, Man from Reno screens
tomorrow (7/19) at the Japan Society as part of the 2014 Japan Cuts.
Labels: Ayako Fujitani, Dave Boyle, Japan Cuts '14, Pepe Serna