Chaos (Kaosu) Review
Better known for his masterful adaptation of famed Japanese novel Ring, director Hideo Nakata turned his hand to a complex thriller by the name of Chaos (Kaosu) back in 1999. Despite having already picked up the rights to Nakata's 2002 horror title Dark Water, UK distributors have thus far passed over Chaos making it somewhat of a hidden gem.
Chaos begins with a couple dining at a somewhat expensive looking restaurant, both are well dressed suggesting money is not a problem for them. While the husband, Komiyama, takes care of the cheque, his wife, Saori, wanders outside ahead of him, yet when Komiyama goes to join her she has mysteriously disappeared. Komiyama decides to return to his high profile managerial job where he later receives a phone call informing him that his wife has been kidnapped, and if he wants to see her alive he must pay thirty million yen. The police are soon involved and a drop point is arranged with the kidnapper, who when we see for the first time looks nervous and ill-prepared as he psyches himself up to make the next contact.
From this point on we begin to get a feel of how Chaos will play out as one scene fades to black and another begins, though we never quite know where the scene we are about to see will be placed in the grand scheme of things. What we see directly after these events is Saori arriving at the kidnappers house to initiate what is in actuality a staged kidnapping. Quite why she has asked this of Kuroda, who runs a 'handyman' business, will not be divulged until later in the story but rest assured what comes into play from this point forward are a series of twists, revelations and shocks as Kuroda soon finds himself with blood on his hands and a mystery that will slowly draw him into an ever increasing web of deceit and betrayal.
To describe the plot any further would reveal far too many spoilers and ruin the intrigue Nakata skilfully develops in Chaos, a film that works best when you go into it with little to no idea of the what the film has in store for you. So to continue this review I will attempt to describe the way in which Nakata conveys the story to the viewer, which has a great deal to do with structure through the aforementioned scenes that frequently end with a fade-to-black, whereupon the next piece of the puzzle begins. In between these intermittent flashbacks (that are not even in any specific time order) the story is furthered as we see the present day activities of Kuroda continue with the flashbacks serving extra detail to the viewer for the discoveries he makes. This creates a story that proves to be utterly compelling as you are being drip fed snippets of information that slowly comes together in your head just as it does for Kuroda. When the puzzle is solved Nakata stays true to form as he has further revelations up his sleeve for the finale that leaves you with as many questions as it does answers, and is in many ways the only real question mark I have towards the film as the conclusion is not as satisfactory as I might have hoped. But then due to this method of storytelling Chaos proves to contain a great deal of repeat value as through subsequent viewings you pick up on minor details you previously missed which leads to a more consistent outline in your mind regarding the actions taking place.
Complimenting the strong plot are two fine performances from the leads Masato Hagiwara (Kuroda) and Miki Nakatani (Saori) who literally smoulder onscreen, especially during the initial kidnapping sequences. The chemistry between them is staggeringly intense that when combined with the sublime yet sparingly used percussion based score creates an incredible sense of eroticism that is frequently played upon during the rest of the films proceedings and is essential to the films success. Nakata builds further upon these elements with tightly paced editing and visually interesting camera techniques that help to keep the audience stuck to their seats thanks to the ever-increasing sense of tension and foreboding that is created by the sum of these parts.
This is an official Korean DVD release from Spectrum DVD and although the rear cover states it is Region 3, you will find it is actually a Region 0 (or region free) disc making it compatible on all players. In terms of presentation the artwork used for the front cover is the same as that of the original poster and is therefore a fine choice, while the spine features the title logo that is in both English and Japanese. The rear cover features a description of the movie (in Korean) with the standard credits list (in English) and DVD specifications (in English).
Upon inserting the disc you are presented with the Spectrum DVD logo sequence, which is followed by a menu system that is entirely in English and presented in 4:3 Full Frame. Most impressive of all is the actual design that uses key images from the film (no spoilers though) accompanied by a DD5.1 mix of the films impressive score.
You can purchase this Korean release from various e-tailers. I personally used Yes Asia.
Presented in the original 1.85:1 Widescreen Aspect ratio with Anamorphic Enhancement you will find that the transfer on this disc is of a reasonably high standard. The print used is mostly free of dirt though the occasional speck can be seen as you progress through the film. For the most part detail and colour reproduction is very good though a slightly soft transfer overall subdues this quality and also prevents black levels from being as deep as they should be. The more perceptive amongst you may also notice signs of pixellation (especially on the darker scenes) that are down to some sloppy encoding. These however are minor complaints as in general I found the picture quality to be more than acceptable and it certainly did not stand in the way of my enjoyment of this movie.
The original Japanese language audio is provided here in a very clear Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track that is basically as good as stereo sound can be. Dialogue is clear while the engrossing score was reproduced particularly well with no signs of hiss or dropouts present. Though I would have liked a 5.1 track (as the quality of the music in the menu suggests it would be a significant improvement) the far more expensive Japanese Region 2 disc also features a standard stereo soundtrack so it seems unlikely that one is available.
Optional English and Korean subtitles are present on this disc with the former being of most interest to the majority of you reading this review and I am happy to report they are generally of a high quality. I do not recall any spelling mistakes though the occasional grammatical error was noticeable, while the actual font used is easy to read and is in white with a black outline.
Though there are a few extra features to choose from none contain English subtitles, which makes their use limited. A 10-minute making of featurette takes us behind several scenes from the movie. We get to see footage of rehearsals and of the actual shooting which is then compared to the final scene. This featurette is certainly worth a run through though the lack of English subtitles for the footage and the accompanying voice over does limit its appeal. For our Korean readers you will be pleased to know that Korean subtitles are available for this featurette.
The only other extras are the original Theatrical Trailer and a TV Spot, both presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen and lacking any form of subtitles, while you will also find biographies in Korean text for director Hideo Nakata and stars Masato Hagiwara and Miki Nakatani.
Director Hideo Nakata further consolidates his position as a fine director of horror/thriller movies with Chaos, a film that is thoroughly engrossing thanks to an intelligent and well executed story that begs to be watched repeatedly so you can soak up the various nuances tucked beneath the surface.
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