Okay, seriously, what the fucking fuck? I mean, honestly, what? This film is deeply confusing, and I'm not talking about the plot, though I could be, and the statement would be equally true. The existence of this film, such as it is, is itself confusing. How did this film happen, and why? What precisely went wrong, other than lots and lots of things? An hour and a half after starting it, I'm left scratching my head and trying to dig some answers out of Google, which hasn't helped so far.
It's some indeterminate time, presumably in the future, if not very far. I say this because the film was released (though where, I'm not terribly sure) in 1998, and contains scenes involving what we would now call smart phones, which don't look the way they actually look, but hey, points for trying. Two corporate espionage agents, Fox (Christopher Walken) and an unnamed man (played by Willem DaFoe) listed in the credits simply as "X" hatch a scheme to lure a brilliant geneticist named Hiroshi away from the cutthroat Maas Corporation and hand him over to Maas's rival Osaka-presumably another business, and not the city. To this end, they enlist the services of a sexy...call girl? It's not quite certain, but let's assume so. Picked out of a karaoke club by Fox, her job, which she's assured will pay off to the tune of one million bucks, is to seduce Hiroshi away from his job and family, although it's never really clear why the affair should necessitate a change of employers. She reluctantly agrees, but begins having an affiar with DaFoe's character. Somewhere along the way, a double-cross occurs. I won't reveal any more about the plot, because I have now revealed everything about it I could actually discern.
Never before have I seen a movie which so deeply struck me as unfinished. I don't mean that in the sense that a few effects shots were cut due to budget, or that they couldn't get clearances for the song they really wanted for the opening credits, or, you know, that Mark Hamill was supposed to shoot a few pickups but got in a car accident on the way and ended up in the hospital with a disfigured face. I mean that it feels as though only half of the script was ever shot and the director and editor scrambled for a way to finish it anyway, failed, but still released it. Walken and Dafoe almost never seem to set foot outside of a hotel, and if you consider the possibility that the karaoke club seen in a few scenes might actually be part of the hotel, you could erase the word "almost." All shots not including Walken, DaFoe, or Asia Argento's young seductress Sandii are filmed on grainy, handheld video. It's as if the world beyond these three barely exists, and is represented only by video feeds and shaky surveillance footage. The allegedly brilliant Hiroshi is played by renowned artist Yoshitaka Amano, though when I say "played," I mean it in the loosest sense. Despite being the apparent focus of the plot, he never appears with any of the main characters. He never utters a word. Despite supposedly being successfully seduced by Sandii, they have not one frame of screen time together. In fact, he has nothing in the film that one would traditionally term a scene at all. There's maybe a minute of footage of Hiroshi in the entire movie, much of it reused multiple times. Part of me wonders if Amano even knows he's in this film to begin with. An obsessed fan or a halfway competent P.I. could doubtlessly get you equally usable footage just by following Amano around with a small camera. For a minute.
Somewhere about two-thirds through, one of the characters makes an unexplained, suicidal leap from a balcony, and another vanishes. The third character spends the remaining running time recalling bits of earlier conversations, again, sometimes more than once. Sometimes the flashbacks contain new footage not seen in the earlier scenes, and sometimes they replay verbatim. One expects some dramatic revelation as the pieces are revisited, some recontextualization that will suddenly make everything fall into place, something akin to the final few minutes of The Usual Suspects. It doesn't happen. The montage of recollection goes on for twenty minutes, and when it finally ends, it does so with a scene that feels no more definitive as a final statement than any other randomly-picked scene in the film. Then it's over, and then you turn to Google for help and find mostly more head-scratching.
I saw this film years ago at the suggestion of a friend, who was (and presumably still is) a fan of William Gibson (who wrote the original short story), and couldn't make sense of it. It struck me that a revisitation might perhaps be in order after reading numerous online comments referring (sometimes derisively) to the endless parade of nude scenes featuring Asia Argento. I recalled no nude scenes in the film, and it occured to me that this might be because I'd rented it from Blockbuster, who were notorious for their in-house censorship and valiant attempts to ensure that adult Americans would not be traumatized by the sight of breasts. This motivated me to give it another look-I know what you're thinking, but bear with me; it's not as pervy as it sounds. It seemed as though the wholesale incoherence I'd recalled might have been due to liberal hacking and slashing of "offensive" scenes-you try watching the safe-for-broadcast cut of Mulholland Drive, an already tricky film rendered opaque by network pruning. With this in mind, I watched the film uncut and learned...that Asia Argento has nice breasts. Revelation ends here. Half the scenes in question occur during the ending montage, which now goes on interminably without imparting any new info. I cannot divine what happened during the production; I can only assume that this end result wasn't what was envisioned. I want plot and characters and some sense of involvement, and not a film which seems as though it's sitting on the other side of the room, talking about a plot going on in some other state. Even the bonus of extra skin from Miss Argento brought with it the unwanted bonus of extra skin from Willem DaFoe. Sometimes first impressions are dead on the money.
On the plus side, Blockbuster Video is now all but defunct. I won't miss the puritanical fuckheads.
-review by Matt Murray