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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.02.17] thriller mystery

A mystery-thriller and a touching human drama, Rage starts with the seemingly random murder of a suburban couple by an unseen character, before splitting into three completely separate narratives. Within each of these narratives is a character we are led to believe may be the killer, and as the film switches between each story, we're invited to guess who (if any) of these people are guilty, and why they committed this horrible crime. Rage isn't what I expected it to be, less gory and suspenseful, more wistful and emotional, it nevertheless impresses with solid performances and a gripping story.

Three different cities, three separate groups of people - news outlets and police are appealing for any information on the murder. In Chiba, Ken Watanabe plays the father of a girl who wishes to marry her boyfriend, but who becomes suspicious when he discovers a shady past-life this man has been hiding from her. In Tokyo, a closeted businessman (Satoshi Tsumabuki) starts a relationship with a quiet and intense young man (Go Ayano) whom he meets at a club, but begins to suspect as the killer when lies and half-truths emerge. Finally, in Okinawa, two teenagers in love meet a mysterious drifter (Mirai Moriyama) by the beach, warming to his breezy charm, but quickly growing suspicious when a darker side of his personality emerges.

Rage is based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida, and in Korean-Japanese director Lee Sang-il's adaptation we get the sense that it must be a pretty complex and emotional read. The film is 142 minutes long, so we spend a lot of time with these people, drifting between each story until they reach their respective revelations, and the killer and their motive, are finally unmasked.

The characters are intertwined by the film's central theme of rage and unresolved anger. Watanabe and his daughter fight over her relationship, and his character is unwilling and unable to let her go and accept her fiance into the family. The Tokyo story concerns itself with a sort of tangled coming-out story, coupled with the grief of losing a parent, and all the feelings of helplessness, confusion and fear which hover over such territory - it is undeniably the most emotional and tragic segment. The Okinawa scenes, probably the most tense and brutal narrative strand, involves both mental-illness and rape, and must be applauded for handling both subjects without becoming tasteless or gratuitous.

Of the performances, Watanabe is probably the only actor I'm familiar with here, and he does a fine job in expressing his character's concern and frustration. Ayano's scenes in the Tokyo segment are similarly impressive, as he maintains an air of mystery around his character while remaining resolutely sympathetic. Moriyama steals the film as the beach-dwelling hermit, however, and the Okinawa segment of Rage is reason alone to watch this film. His character is so volatile, a cheerful joker one minute, an unstable creep the next, he is a compelling character and Moriyama's screen-presence is undeniable.

Perhaps the only weakness here is a sense of melodrama which occasionally rears its head. Several moments we sense that the film is manipulating us, swelling music and strained facial expressions explicitly telling us to care. This is a minor gripe, as the film is, at its core, a story well-told and by talented people, but sometimes less is more and it's easy to forget that subtly wins over heavy-handedness almost every time.

It's a chore writing positive reviews, just as it is reading them, as it's universally acknowledged that criticising things is easy and fun, but earnestly praising them is boring. Watching this film, I wasn't bored for a moment, it draws the audience in and keeps us intrigued, scene-by-scene, as the whole story unfurls. It may not be the grisly, violent thriller I'd anticipated walking into the screening, but I'm glad I saw Rage.

An unconventional thriller and a solid, well-acted drama, it's well worth checking out. I may even buy the book now.

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