Monday, August 8, 2016

A Night in Nude: Salvation (2010)

The cinematic landscape of Takashi Ishii is filled with several reoccurring motifs whether they be represented visually via his obsession with torrential rainfall and neon drenched lighting which are found in virtually everyone of his films, or thematically, for instance his predilection for sadomasochism in films such as Flower and Snake (2004) and Sweet Whip (2013). One particular idea that Ishii is constantly exploring no matter what genre he may be working in is just how rotten the human race can be to itself and there is a great sadness running throughout all his work. Ishii has never shied away exposing the physical and psychological trauma humans inflict on each other and more often than not its women who are on the receiving end of the abuse. This has led to many westerners dismissing Ishii as a misogynist while in Japan Ishii is applauded by many feminists and its easy to see why, as all of Ishii’s films are incredibly heartfelt and it should be glaringly obvious that Ishii is always on the side of his female protagonists as evidenced by films like Angel Guts: Red Vertigo (1988), Freeze Me (2000) and Sweet Whip. A Night in Nude: Salvation, Ishii’s sequel to A Night in Nude (1993), is one of Ishii’s most potent plunges into the abyss of human cruelty and yet another example of Ishii’s sensitivity while dealing with wounded female psyches.

Jiro (Naoto Takenaka), an odd job man willing to take on any task depending on the payment, is approached by Ren (Hiroko Sato), a young woman asking him to locate a missing Rolex. Although skeptical of her story, that the watch was accidentally dropped out of a helicopter while scattering her late fathers ashes, Jiro accepts and finds the watch. Impressed by Jiro's never asking questions, Ren goes to him again for another job, to locate the whereabouts of a missing girl named Tae whom Ren credits with having saved her life. Jiro once again accepts and the further he gets into his investigation of Tae, the more over his head he finds himself in Ren and her family’s strange and dangerous world of sex and murder.

To the uninitiated, A Night in Nude: Salvation (Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau, ヌードの夜 愛は惜しみなく奪う) will probably seem like a barrage of nihilism and exploitation and there is quite a bit of truth to that idea. The film is one of Ishii’s bleakest projections of his worldview, presenting a vision of Japan where the rain never stops, human bodies are nothing more than a form of currency and the concept of family is perverted and synonymous with nothing but suffering. At the same time, those already familiar with Ishii will recognize an attempt at understanding the behavior of the characters, specifically Ren. Ren is one of the Ishii’s most tormented creations and the more time Ishii spotlights her family, the more her reasoning becomes apparent which makes the involvement of Jiro all the more gripping and ultimately tragic. Ishii’s way of setting up the story is a bit deceptive with the mystery of Tae quickly revealing itself to not be much of a mystery at all. Instead of loosing its momentum, Ishii’s letting the audience know more than the characters beforehand gives the film even more, with the mystery being how will the main players react to certain situations and just what depths will they sink too. The sheer bizarreness of Jiro’s journey down the rabbit hole make the film all the more fascinating and Ishii even finds time for some pitch black humor thanks to the lunatic antics of Ren’s family and their nonchalant attitudes towards some fairly risky activities.

In what instantly became one of the most infamous moments in Ishii’s oeuvre and a make a break factor for many viewers, Ishii has lead actress Hiroko Sato repeatedly flagellate herself for an extended period of time. It’s an exhausting sequence and while many have complained about the length and indulgence of the scene, Ishii brilliantly uses the scene to give a glimpse into Ren’s state of mind and the harrowing voice-overs heard throughout make it a scene of immense self-loathing and emotional purging. The scene is not only a testament to Ishii’s unique way of handling some pretty loaded subject matter but also the phenomenal performance of Hiroko Sato who follows in the footsteps of a long line of fearless actresses like Harumi Inoue (who appears here as one of Ren’s demented sisters), Aya Sugimoto and Mai Kitajima who’ve gone through the psychical and psychological ringer for Ishii with astonishing results. As good as Naoto Takenaka is in his 9th role for Ishii reprising his role as Jiro the handyman from Ishii’s first Night in Nude, as is often the case in an Ishii film, it’s the female who gets center stage and Sato leaves a lasting impression. Despite being a sequel, A Night in Nude: Salvation works perfectly on its own and is further proof of Ishii’s willingness to go to places most contemporary directors don’t have the nerve to go.

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