Can a film about a girl with 13 personalities be interesting? Probably, if made well. Kev reviews Ventura International’s latest Japanese release.
In the aftermath of Kobe’s destruction in 1995 thousands of people are moved into shelters. Yukari Kamo (Yoshino Kimura) is left to wander the city, far from her home of Tokyo. She arrives at a rescue shelter and volunteers to help the homeless citizens for a while, using the shelter’s storeroom to sleep at night. Yukari has been suffering from a psychic ability which enables her to read people’s thoughts, but it causes too much grief for her and in the past she’s tried to commit suicide after coming close to madness. To fight against the voices in her head she takes medication but is often fearful that one day the treatment will no longer be effective.
Hiroko Nomura (Satomi Tezuka) is a high-school counsellor who runs the shelter. When she learns that Yukari is sleeping uncomfortably she offers to put her up at her house, where Yukari learns of her profession before being shown a collection of thirteen drawings of different trees. When asked about them, Hiroko tells Yukari that they’re the work of the same girl who is suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Her name is Chihiro Moritani (Yu Kurosawa) and ever since her parents died in a car crash, from which she narrowly escaped, Chihiro has been troubled by these personalities. Suddenly people begin winding up dead and the circumstances point to Chihiro while Yukari meets a doctor (Ken Ishiguro) who used to work on outer body experience projects before the Kobe earthquake struck his assistant, Yayoi (Makiko Watanabe) dead leaving her spirit to wander and seemingly take over Chihiro.
The translation from novel to film can often be a killer, particularly when the director himself wants to follow the success of other more notable efforts. In the case of Isola this has led to a loss of identity with director, Toshiyuki Mizutani putting together a film based loosely on Yusuke Kishi’s novel with a screenplay developed alongside three other screenwriters (four including himself). How does a film with four screenwriters turn out so awkward? Probably because it has four screenwriters.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds, it’s just boring. The biggest shame with regards to Isola is that it starts off quite strongly, picking up shortly after the disastrous Kobe earthquake on January 17th 1995 from which it taps into the despair of the Japanese people. During this time Yukari is struggling with telepathic abilities she’d rather not have, as they cause her much pain with those around her throwing abuse and referring to her as some kind of freak. This brings us a little sympathy for a character that is portrayed as an outcast in society; try as she might to help others. From there we soon meet Chihiro and that’s where the whole sorry mess starts.
Isola is a very frustrating piece of work. It’s annoying to see a film that sets up its characters promisingly, only to throw it all away for a cheap fix. Within the first five minutes you’d be forgiven for thinking Mizutani was well on the way to providing solid, emotional content but by the end we’ve given up on the characters. It’s not that Yu Kurosawa (granddaughter of the great Akira) does a poor job in portraying Chihiro and her many personalities; it’s just that she has far too much weight placed on her. Commendable as she is when falling into various states of ill reputed mannerisms there isn’t enough screen time to do them any real justice. Moreover I don’t think that we actually see any more than a few. While glossing over these various character traits Mizutani forwards the narrative towards ghostly, science based trappings that are all too reminiscent of other thrillers. Isola just can’t cover all of its bases; it’s an awkward mix of psychological terror and sloppy drama that can’t even help itself but to include a foolishly impromptu romantic sub plot. Rather than defy or change any convention it sticks to them like a wet jelly bean on a cold, hard surface that has been left alone for a few hours.
With all hopes of an involving tale fading soon after the introduction this leaves Isola in a dark place with no light at the end of the tunnel, as Mizutani’s style of directing is to be frank neither interesting or entirely original. Having managed to get Takashi Miike in for a blink and you’ll miss it cameo I can’t help but think he’d probably be better served if Miike took the camera off him while he was at it. So while he’s struggling to string a plot together Mizutani brings us a stylistically deprived show of poorly delivered horror-like sequences and dull chromatic visuals, which all culminates in a yawn inducing finale.
The film might not be so great but at least Ventura has done a solid job with the presentation, if lacking somewhat in extra features.
Isola is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image has plenty of strong colours with vibrant day time scenes and night sequences which fare just as well (aside from a little contrast boost). There’s a tiny spot of edge enhancement with some visible compression artefacts during some of the brightly lit scenes, which are far more noticeable on a monitor than a regular TV set up.
Japanese 2.0 and DTS tracks are available, the latter of which was used for the films’ theatrical showings, so it’s great to see it here. The track offers a good amount of separation; this isn’t too evident until some of the later, heavier scenes which involve the earthquake. It’s a quite literally shattering sound that captures the incident well. Aside from that there isn’t a whole lot to fuss over. Dialogue comes across clear and some of the “suspenseful” scenes are suitably channelled. There are optional English subtitles – always a good thing. These are well timed, easy to read and free from error.
A collection of trailers for other films in Ventura’s catalogue – Shikoku, Inugami, Isola and Shadow of the Wraith.
Here we get some very brief interviews with stars, Yoshino Kimura and Yu Kurosawa. We don’t get to learn too much. Yu appears quite introverted as she talks about her character in relation to herself, while Yoshino talks about what makes the film different from most. These were recorded during the shooting process and show some behind the scenes material.
Isola shows that brilliant concepts can be so sorely wasted, it’s a shame really. Ventura International has delivered another fine presentation, albeit for a flawed film. In the end this is simply a victim of a boom that should have ended earlier.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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