Hideo Nakata leaves behind Sadako and her well for now and moves into new psychological territory with Chaos. Kev takes a look at Tartan’s disc which is available to buy from today.
Komiyama (Ken Mitsuishi) and his wife Saori (Miki Nakatani) are dining out at the posh “L” restaurant. After a seemingly nice meal Saori proceeds to the exit while her husband pays the bill but as he finishes up and heads outside he finds that she is nowhere to be seen. Thinking little of it he heads back to his office, assuming his wife has simply gone off for a walk but shortly after getting back to work he receives a telephone call from a mystery man. The man claims to have kidnapped Saori and he demands Komiyama pays 30,000,000 yen if he wishes to see her again. Komiyama quickly calls in the police, meanwhile the kidnapper, Kuroda (Masato Hagiwara) readies himself for the next step, but there’s something about this man, as if he’s not quite sure what he’s getting himself into.
To say anymore would spoil a film that wants to remain mysterious. Chaos comes from the vision of director Hideo Nakata (though based upon Utano Shogo’s novel) – a name which has become very well known in the west, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock to find him dabbling in more tales of suspense. Though he doesn’t consider himself to be a horror director as such, he still acknowledges his films as being so, as well as admitting that he does them well. There’s nothing genuinely creepy or unnerving about this tale, as you’ll witness it is far more a character piece in the mould of a mystery/thriller. This is a nice change, coming a year after Ringu and before its sequel; it shows Nakata taking somewhat of a break from the horror genre that he’s quickly become associated with.
Soon after Chaos begins it throws itself into disarray as the time frame is distorted and we jump back to witness earlier events. The way in which the film proceeds to jolt our minds reflects its very title and for the duration it merrily jumps back and forth, dropping clues which help solve the puzzle further down the line. This is one of the films’ major flaws though – it’s too signposted. Nakata must want to leave such heavy clues lying around because some are so blatantly obvious that you’d pick up a good portion of what’s going on before it hits its half way point. If I were to mention one of these then you’d have a good idea within the opening minute of the film, come to think of it I may have said too much already. At other times the film is less forceful. So perhaps it isn’t meant to focus so much on the guessing part, but rather the ambiguity of it all. As it draws out its tale we become embroiled in a relationship, which is its most interesting aspect. The key characters of Saori and Kuroda are what we’re really meant to look deep into; their family lives, purpose, motives – all these seems to work better than the actual jumbled narrative, which try as it might just isn’t as mysterious as it wants to be.
The story does indeed have its fine moments though, mostly when its leads are playing off one another. Nakatani and Hagiwara share a fine chemistry and Nakata directs their actions in a seductive manner. At times he creates a sense of dread and uncertainty as their motivations lead them throughout the circle that they’ve become enticed in, but then this isn’t a huge surprise as he’s managed to convey his character’s emotions well in his previous films. As an actor’s director he does get full support and enthusiasm and as a result his film is all the stronger for it. If the players weren’t 100% into this then it would undoubtedly have been more of a failure. There’s a kind of real sense imbued in the film, actions that aren’t so hard to believe in fact, and the cast do well to add that overall sense of realism. Chaos is more a case of trial and tribulation. It may not succeed wholly as a mystery but as a character piece it’s well played.
Long time Nakata collaborator and anime musician extraordinaire, Kenji Kawai places his mark on the film in a way that doesn’t reflect his other works. He seems to have a grasp of the subject and rarely strays from anything too over the top, sticking with a refined percussion score that punctuates major actions but stays subdued throughout. Kawai doesn’t resign himself to any clichéd noise; he’s far too self aware and because of this his works are often fresh. The score, though subtle, is suitably tailored toward the subject. As a team Kawai and Nakata create an overall emotion; a lot of the time the music used throughout Nakata’s films serve as metaphorical aids, it’s just a shame that some of his metaphors here are lost, and by the end as the final scene demonstrates the futility of it all one can’t help but feel indifferent to all that’s passed. What starts off as an interesting film waiting to be dissected ends up as a piece that ultimately leaves us without much care.
Tartan brings us Chaos on a single disc with few extras but make up for that with one very welcome treat.
Yea I know, Tartan right? Is it NTSC to PAL and all that jazz? Well first things first, yes it is.
The film is enhanced anamorphically in a ratio of 1.77:1. The transfer is relatively sharp and has decent colour reproduction aside from black levels which aren’t deep enough. Likewise the contrast isn’t as spot on and from the opening credits there seems to be some poor compression as pixels are evident in the main title. These don’t appear to be too problematic though we don’t get much choice in the matter. For a film that takes place during many nights it would have been more appropriate to have a stronger transfer to pull us in.
For sound we get a nice selection of Japanese 2.0, 5.1 and DTS tracks. The artificial DTS track is a very good mix that captures much of the films’ atmosphere, particularly during its many outdoor scenes. Still the film doesn’t really require so much attention, it’s definitely not on the same scale as some of Nakata’s deeper routed horrors but the choice to include it is welcome enough. Lacking a bit of bass in the 5.1 department the film isn’t much different and for those stuck with 2.0 it still delivers enough atmosphere and clear dialogue to please. Bear in mind that the 2.0 track is the original mix anyway so I see no reason for complaints.
Optional English subtitles are included and are free from grammatical errors, reading well throughout.
The following extras include subtitles, with one or two errors but nothing too serious.
Curse, Death and Spirit (65.06)
This is the real treat of the set. Hideo Nakata’s anthology of short films made for Japanese television in 1992, which is also his debut work. The three short tales included are “A Cursed Doll” by Hiroshi Takahashi, “Waterfall of the Dead Spirit” by Akihiko Shioda and “An Inn where a Ghost Lives” by Hiroshi Takahashi. Takahashi of course wrote the screenplays for Don’t Look Up/Ghost Actress, Ringu, Ringu 2 and Ringu 0 and here he delivers the better two screenplays, with the latter clearly being inspired by Koji Suzuki’s novel, “Ringu”, released a year prior. This serves as a blue print for Ringu, with a ghost looking uncannily like Sadako complete with the girl’s fascination toward cameras and yes, even a freaky video. The acting throughout these episodes ranges from good to mediocre and the budgets are reflected by their cheap lighting although Nakata clearly uses his resources as best he can. It’s an interesting little film and one that will surely please those wishing to complete their Nakata collection.
Behind the Scenes
This short piece takes a look at the shooting process on Chaos but shows events in chronological order. Do not watch this feature before seeing the film, it contains major spoilers. Accompanying this featurette are words from Nakata discussing his shooting methods.
Original Theatrical Trailer (1.42)
Like it says on the tin but I advise you skip it until having seen the film.
Chaos is an interesting film. With all the right elements at hand it just overuses them, but manages to remain a good experiment in filmmaking. It breaks down conventional narrative and twists it to challenge the viewer, yet its intentions are thwarted by a few glaringly obvious moments. Nakata shows a fine amount of precision for what he wants to achieve and he handles tension well from time to time, helped by several strong performances, but in the end it’s not enough to secure Chaos as being quite as extraordinary as it could have been.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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