Freeze Me Review
Five years ago, Chihiro (Harumi Inoue) was raped by three sadistic thugs. Unable to deal with the feelings of shame that the incident left with her, she left her home town and started a new life for herself in Tokyo. Now a successful businesswoman with a charming boyfriend, Kojima (Shingo Tsurumi), she has put her past behind her and has regained much of the confidence that she had previously lost. All this changes, however, when one of the rapists, Hirokawa (Kazuki Kitamura), shows up at her flat and forces his way in, planning to have his way with her again. Worse still, he states that his partners in crime, Nogami (Shunsuke Matsuoka) and Baba (Naoto Takenaka), will also be coming along to the "reunion". The trio video-taped their previous assault of Chihiro and are prepared to distribute copies if she resists. After her boyfriend abandons her, Chihiro realizes that she is on her own and will have to deal with the rapists themselves. After killing Hirokawa and stuffing his corpse in a large freezer, she now has to decide how to deal with the other two when they inevitably pay a visit...
Takashi Ishii's Freeze Me (known as The Freezer in the UK) is arguably Japan's answer to the rape-revenge style of movies made famous - or should that be infamous? - by shockers such as I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left. The formula is almost invariably as the name of the genre implies: the protagonist is brutally raped and then seeks revenge against her (or indeed his) attackers. This is very much the type of film that, if not handled with the utmost care, can result in a tasteless glorification of one of the most despicable human acts, yet when done properly the results can be incredibly powerful. The revenge factor is absolutely crucial to the success of films such as this. Without it, the film would merely be an unpleasant exercise in the debasement of an innocent human being, but somehow the revenge sequences go some way towards rectifying this, as they provide a release for the anger built up during the first half of the story.
Ishii, a manga artist who previously adapted his own graphic novel, Angel Guts into a series of seven films, the last two of which he directed himself, demonstrates a keen visual sense and, unlike many filmmakers working in the rape-revenge field, knows the meaning of restraint. The brutality of Chihiro's rape is made abundantly clear, but in actual fact practically nothing is actually shown, the terrified look on Chihiro's face and the sneering grins of her attackers telling us everything we need to know. Ishii avoids another common problem with such films, in which the revenge sections frequently take on an exaggerated action movie quality, by keeping the violence realistic and unglamorous. Whereas many victims-turned-assassins seem to develop almost superhuman fighting abilities (witness, for example, Thriller: A Cruel Picture and the Kill Bill saga), Chihiro is not afforded this luxury and actually has to struggle to overpower her targets. One highly effective scene involves her bludgeoning one of the rapists over the head with a bottle and then being forced to grapple with him in a bath filled with bloody water. It's a horrifying image, and part of what makes it so powerful is the fact that it seems all too believable. Ishii plays out these scenes slowly and deliberately, with no music or clever camera tricks, simply photographing the action in the most perfunctory manner possible.
Supporting Ishii's restrained but elegant visual style are the performances of the small cast. Fashion model Harumi Inoue is particularly impressive in the role of Chihiro. While in actual fact the characters are mere archetypes on paper, and Chihiro most of all, Inoue imbues her with a personality that is demonstrated entirely through her facial expressions and mannerisms. Never is the viewer in any doubt as to the emotions she is feeling, and from the moment Hirokawa shows up at the door, her facial expression tells us everything we need to know. The actors playing the three rapists have a tougher time, since their characters are not meant to instill any sympathies in the viewer, and at least two of them - the uninhibited wise-guy Hirokawa and the brutal Yakuza boss Baba - are crude clichés rather than fully rounded characters. Businessman Nogami is a little more rounded: a mild-mannered man who initially seems to show genuine remorse and begs forgiveness for what he and the others did to Chihiro, he soon slips back into his old ways after a few drinks. They acquit themselves well, however, and are never anything less than completely convincing.
Ultimately, however Freeze Me doesn't have enough going on beneath the surface for it to be a truly worthwhile piece of work. The final frames are unsatisfying as they do not so much as even hint at a resolution and suggest that Ishii simply decided to take the easy way out. Even worse, the film suffers from a number of moments that require a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief. Admittedly many of the oddities may be the result of a culture clash - the Japanese notion of "honour", especially, not really existing in the West - but even so there are a number of moments that severely stretch the bounds of credibility. Why Kojima, who is perfectly aware that his girlfriend is being held prisoner by a vicious rapist, simply walks away and fails to inform the police, for example, is a complete mystery. Overall, the film is a watchable but unremarkable addition to the genre, with glossy photography and solid performances going at least some way towards masking the script's shortcomings; however, there are plenty of bigger fish in the rape-revenge sea.
Freeze Me is presented anamorphically with a transfer that seems to be slightly squatter than its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1; however, there are no obvious problems with the framing. Unfortunately, the transfer is not very good at all, with a poor black level that renders most scenes a rather muddy grey. Worse still, this is an interlaced transfer, which admittedly shows less artefacting than the inexcusable NTSC-to-PAL standards-converted presentation that graced Tartan's UK release, but is still not particularly eye-pleasing.
The original Japanese language audio is presented in stereo and sounds good for the most part, if unremarkable. Not understanding a word of Japanese, I can't vouch for the coherence of the dialogue, but there were no obvious faults to my ears. The optional English subtitles are clear and free of any grammatical or spelling errors, although a handful of errant symbols do show up on one or two occasions.
Extras are limited to a rather effective Trailer, presented in Japanese with burned-in English and Chinese subtitles, a small Photo Gallery and Filmographies for the principal cast and crew.