After his technically proficient remake of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’, Japanese-Korean director, Lee Sang-il, turns back to the author, Shuichi Yoshida, to film his latest novel, the one-worded ‘Rage’. This is not unfamiliar territory for Sang-il, he previously helmed Yoshida’s ‘Villain’ to great success in 2010 that it put his name on the map for up and coming Asian filmmakers to keep an eye on. Ken Watanabe who received top billing in Sang-Il’s ‘Unforgiven’, also returns nearly three years on. What ‘Rage’ offers is a slow-burn affair, told from the perspectives of three groups of people. The good news is that ‘Rage’ manages to mostly keep the audience’s attention with a careful mixture of complex multi-strand drama, a sinister tone and a murder mystery as its core. The bad news is that the runtime gets pulled into question thanks to a certain amount of honking melodrama and Sang-il’s refusal to shave half-an-hour away from it.
‘Rage’ opens on the police investigating a brutal double murder of a married couple. The wife is lying in the bathtub whilst the culprit had waited for the husband to get in from work to meet the same fate as his spouse. On a bare wall, the killer leaves the word ‘Ikari’ (Rage) painted with their blood. The killer flees and undergoes plastic surgery to remain undetected. Meanwhile, in three separate locations across Japan, a stranger appears from nowhere which the locals suspect might be the murderer, all of which strongly resemble the suspect in the photos before the plastic surgery.
Sang-il keeps these stories unrelated to each other but they are interweaved to keep the audience guessing. In Chiba, Yohei (Watanabe) has just saved his daughter from her life as an exploited sex worker. As she settles back home in a small fishing village, she turns to a drifter, Tashiro (Kenichi Matsuyama) and begins a relationship whom Yohei doesn’t trust. In Tokyo, salaryman Yuma (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a closeted homosexual, meets a bathhouse visitor, Naoto (Go Ayano). Soon after, he finds himself showing affection towards the anxious young man. He eventually introduces him to his terminally ill mother. Finally, on the island of Okinawa, Izumi (Suzu Hirose) and her admirer, Tatsuya (Takara Sakumoto) meet with another drifter, Tanaka (Mirai Moriyama) hiding out in a ruined war bunker.
Sang-il manages to juggle each story with affection and plausibility, despite some sillier moments such as the ‘killer-getting-plastic-surgery’ bit – a cliché that is subject to parody. But what is not given enough attention is the investigation itself. Minus the opening scene, Sang-il leaves vast amounts time with either the stories in Chiba, Tokyo or Okinawa with only the investigation brought in every now and then for showing a breakthrough in the case. Because of this and the bloated runtime, once ‘Rage’ reaches the third act, it opens up to a whole amount of melodramatic over-emoting from the cast featuring them in a flood of tears, ranting at each other or, in the case of Tanaka, destroying everything in a small town restaurant made complete with a string score. And this third act never seems to end, Sang-il’s adaptation doesn’t know how to bring Yoshida’s material to a natural conclusion and makes it longer than necessary.
In some ways, I appreciate the dedicated time with these nicely rounded characters, there is an underlying sense of doubt and tension found within these professionally crafted scenes prior to the third act. Norimichi Kasamatsu’s cinematography is lush and vibrant especially when the story pivots to Okinawa but remains low-key during its serious moments. The cast boasts impressive performances led by Watanabe. And Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score, despite being overbearing in certain scenes, makes the film flow when needed. But in other ways, ‘Rage’ is not as airtight as it could be and begins to drag badly towards the end. However, there is enough creepy material to keep the audience engaged, often culminating in a horrific display of violence such as a graphic scene involving American GIs. Even with those grim edges, this is simply a drama with a murder mystery twist featuring humans that can lie, bond and break away from each other, and not a full-on police procedural or a classic ‘whodunnit?’. ‘Rage’ is faithful to Yoshida’s original work. But in terms of its transition to the big screen, that’s where it begins to falter.