Overview: Three mysterious men in different cities are suspected by friends and loved ones of having committed the same grisly murder. Based on the novel of the same name by Shuichi Yoshida. Toho; 2016; Not Rated; 144 minutes.
Rage Leads to Ruin: Sang-il Lee’s Rage is one of those films where everything that matters is already in place from the very beginning. In terms of where we start and where we end up, there isn’t much movement. I don’t mean that in reference to the central mystery presented by the movie, though each of the film’s intertwining vignettes is built upon the murder whose bloody aftermath is presented in the opening scene. But the film’s trick is that it hides emotional journeys of very short distances in the story structure of a menacing thriller. I say “short distances” because with one glaring exception every characters’ on-their-sleeve emotional state is the same at the end as it was in the beginning, each conclusion reached by the individual’s submission to, defeat by, or deliverance from their seemingly permanent despair, distrust, or self-doubt.
Rage Leads to Anger: It’s a clever trick that Lee pulls, filling the tightened winding hallways of mystery with such a complex emotional ballet. After Yohei (Ken Watanabe) rescues his daughter Aiko (Aoi Miyazaki) from her work as a sex worker (where he finds her physically abused and helpless), he watches with a cautious eye as she becomes romantically involved with one of his quieter employees (Tashiro, played by Kenichi Matsuyama). Yuma (Satoshi Tsumabuk) wanders into a bathhouse and forces himself upon a near mute stranger, Naoto (Go Ayano), whom he takes home, becomes involved with, and eventually introduces to his dying mother. And Tatsuya’s (Takara Sakumoto) courtship of his island town’s new resident Izumi (Suzu Hirose) is interrupted by a charming, backpacking drifter named Tanaka (Mirai Moriyama). In each narrative line, suspicion builds that each mysterious man is responsible for the famed murder, which is projected in the background in a Most Wanted-style TV show. But with each progressive act, the sense of danger is washed by a massive wave of the emotional conflict that lends fate to each of the non-suspect characters. That is, Yohei falls victim to his sad and helpless over-protection of his daughter, playboy Yuma is ruined by his inability to allow his love closer than a certain distance, and both Tatsuya and Izumi are destroyed by the former’s insecure inability to move forward and protect the latter.
Rage Leads to Assault: Lee’s film plays like a late entry in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s death trilogy (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel), an overwhelming rush of unrelenting tragedy and misfortune peppered with the strength of love as it manifests only in those moments. Its strongest stretch comes in the second act, not just in the story’s engaging of its audience or in its actors’ performances (to Lee’s credit, he manages to get outstanding performances from his entire cast here), but also in Norimichi Kasamatu’s lensing of three separate cities and multiple landscapes and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s sweeping but heartbreaking score of waves of melancholy. And if the film careens too recklessly and hydroplanes on its stream of steady tears, swerving too close to the wall of overbearing tragedy (Izumi, in particular, is punished by the narrative to an almost unforgivably brutal degree), it should be noted that somehow, even the movie’s closing, which sees uncannily long stretches of cathartic emotional screaming and gut-wrenching wailing, somehow holds its affect and sincerity. The movie goes to clumsy lengths to obscure the revelation of its killer. I can’t help but wonder if Lee filmed the actors who played the other characters in the vaguely framed and shadow saturated in throwback scenes; but those willing to forgive its somewhat lazy mystery play, which is all but demoted to second concern by the climax, may find themselves taken by the occasional power of the melodrama.
Overall: Rage is in turns heavy-handed and deeply stirring, a sometimes confused and sometimes overwhelming film saved by top shelf performances and skilled filmmaking.
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Featured Image: Toho