LOTS OF SPOILERS INCLUDING THE ENDING.
Good Lord, I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed while watching a movie. I thought that Ikari would be a fast-paced thriller but it turned out to be a really joy-quenching film where almost every character is worse off at the end than they were at the start.
This is the exact opposite of my Usagi Drop experience, and I spent the entire two and a half goddamn hours cringing in fear because it’s one of those movies where ANYTHING horrible can happen to the characters. Even in the final three minutes before the credits, I was expecting a last-minute suicide or something.
The movie has three different storylines that are connected through a murder that happens at the start of the movie. A construction worker, whose face we never get to see, kills a married couple in their home and paints怒 (“ikari” or “rage”) on the door with blood.
Then we start to follow the different plot threads out there: the first one involves Maki Yohei (Watanabe Ken) who has to pick up his daughter Aiko (Miyazake Aoi) from a brothel, where a customer has left her so broken (yeah…), she can no longer work and has to go home with her father back to their little town. Aiko strikes up a tentative relationship with the only dude in town who doesn’t seem disgusted by her past as a prostitute, a mysterious and withdrawn newcomer, Tashiro Tetsuya (Matsuyama Kenichi).
The second thread is about Fujita Yuma (Tsumabuki Satoshi), an openly gay dude who hooks up with another dude Onishi Naoto (Ayano Go) at a bathhouse. Aiko’s abuse already made me feel uneasy, but this scene was really really uncomfortable because it was one of those borderline rape scenes. Naoto resists Yuma at first, and then Yuma says a very date-rapey kind of sentence, like “Stop pretending you don’t like this” and then he kind of holds Naoto down and they have sex.
At first I was like, is this film trying to portray gay sex as inherently abusive? But afterwards, we see do Naoto moving in with Yuma and they do have tender moments and happily consensual sex with each other. But the bathhouse scene was very difficult to watch, dudes. Yuma starts falling in love with Naoto but Naoto refuses to divulge what his past is, although he’s really sweet and cares for Yuma’s dying mother and comforts Yuma when she passes away.
The third thread is about a teenaged girl, Suzuya Izumi (Hirose Suzu), who moves to Okinawa with her single mother, makes friends with a local boy, Chinen Tatsuya (Takara Sakumoto, who is probably one of the best actors in this movie, and that’s saying a lot considering how talented the cast is). Tatsuya is nursing a crush on her, and he takes her to an abandoned island where she can explore. It turns out that there’s a mysterious dude living in that abandoned island, one of those hippie/surfer types–I bet that as soon as I said that, you pictured a skinny Japanese dude with a man bun, cargo shorts, sandals, and a giant backpack, and you’re exactly right. Tanaka Shingo (Moriyama Mirai) is like that free-spirited substitute teacher who “gets it” and the two kids really get along with him.
So how are all these plots tied together? Well, the killer is on the loose and has gotten plastic surgery to change his face. The cops think that he may be hiding out in the gay district dressed as a woman (yeah, pretty transphobic), but then another lead says that he’s run off somewhere remote. I’m sure you must have guessed what the whole point is: one of the mysterious dudes in the three storylines is the killer, and we have to figure out which one it is.
Written like this, it sounds pretty interesting but on film, it takes forever to unspool. I can see how the director, Lee Sang-Il, was trying to make this a meditation on trust and betrayal, but the film feels like it goes on too long and conversely doesn’t spend enough time exploring how trust is built.
There are some really interesting questions in the film, like, how come sexual and physical intimacy can make it harder to trust instead of easier, like with Yuma and Naoto? Or when we cling to people out of desperation, we’re willing to believe anything they tell us, but this very desperation may make us distrust them later, like with Aiko and Tetsuya. Or even, most painfully, how we trust our friends to do the right thing, as with Izumi, Tatsuya, and Shingo when they may not have the courage to do right by us. But I think the film just bit off more than it could chew, and it would have worked better as a TV drama.
The police alerts about the murderer get Yuma feeling suspicious about Naoto, and Aiko the same about Tetsuya, and they end up betraying their lovers. Yuma pretends he doesn’t know Naoto, Aiko calls the cops on Tetsuya. It backfires on them both because Naoto was just in the closet and then when he collapses because of a heart condition, Yuma’s betrayal means that he dies all alone. Aiko finds out from the police that Tetsuya isn’t the killer, he’s really what he said he was: a victim of the yakuza on the run from his debts, but by that time, Tetsuya has already left.
So here’s the big spoiler, Shingo is the killer but his plotline is the one that I felt was not only the most difficult to watch but also the weakest. Izumi and Tatsuya go to the city centre to spend a day shopping and eating out and run into Shingo, who hangs out with them for a little while before leaving. Tatsuya gets drunk and wanders off, leaving Izumi to end up searching for him at a seedy district full of US soldiers, who end up raping her while Tatsuya hides himself and cowers in fear.
I find rape scenes really difficult to watch, and Tatsuya’s cowardice made it even harder. But I do kind of appreciate the realism in how Tatsuya’s reaction wasn’t to jump in with guns blazing. We all think we’ll be heroes when shit goes down, but really, how many times have we seen old or injured or disabled people standing on the train and not told someone to get the fuck out of their seat and give it to them? If we can’t even do something this small, how do we expect to be vigilantes? I’m not excusing this behaviour, but it’s a good thing to ask ourselves if we are cowards and what we can do about it.
It’s only after Izumi’s rape and Shingo’s subsequent freakout at Tatsuya’s family restaurant that Tatsuya confronts Shingo on the abandoned island. There, we see the same word “ikari” scratched out on the wall (although Tatsuya doesn’t know what the significance is), and Shingo confesses that he knew that he’d seen the GIs follow Izumi and didn’t try to warn her because he wanted to see her raped. I found this a little weak, especially as it was interspersed with a convenient confession from Shingo’s ex-colleague explaining why he murdered the couple. We don’t really understand why Shingo did all of that shit except that maybe he’s crazy and the movie seems to get lost in terms of theme and plot at this point.
Tatsuya has a breakdown and ends up stabbing Shingo in the stomach and calling the police. And that’s pretty much the end of the story. Like I said, almost everyone is worse off than they were at the start: Yuma is heartbroken and full of guilt and regret when he finds out that he’d failed Naoto, Aiko is broken over her betrayal of Tetsuya, and Tatsuya can’t face Izumi anymore because of the guilt he carries, and she can’t face him either because she’s ashamed of what’s happened to her.
I guess there’s a sort of happy-ish ending with Aiko and Tetsuya (who returns to her) but the threat of the yakuza finding him and fucking up Aiko and her father hangs over them. Since this is a Kenichi-related review, I will say that he looks really good with a tan, and he can really pull off acting sinister and suspicious.
I’m not usually one of those people who only like movies with happy endings, but this movie is too incomplete to justify its bleakness. It just feels depressing for the sake of being depressing. These are the last glimpses of the characters by the movie’s end, and I’m going to tell you know that’s also pretty much the face you’ll be making at the end of this movie.