RAMPO (Mystery of Rampo, The)

(director/writer: Kazuyoshi Okuyama; screenwriter: Yuhei Enoki; cinematographer: Yasushi Sasakibara; editor: Akimasa Kawashima; music: Akira Senju; cast: Naoto Takenaka (Edogawa Rampo), Michiko Hada (Shizuko), Masahiro Motoki (Kogoro Akechi), Teruyuki Kagawa (Masashi Yokomizo), Mikijiro Hira (Marquis Ogawara); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Yoshihisa Nakagawa; Evergreen Video; 1994-Japan, in Japanese with English subtitles)

Puffed up with lots of pretense.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dream-state fantasy film that merges with reality, which is puffed up with lots of pretense like one of those artsy-fartsy Peter Greenaway films. True. It’s a visual feast for the eyes, and might appeal to a certain artsy crowd dazzled by the mix of surrealism and the splashy styles that range from animation to newsreel shots to splashes of vibrant bluish and orange colors filling the screen. But the story was just a lot of hooey. This big box-office hit in Japan caused a stir in the Japananese film community when producer Kazuyoshi Okuyama raised questions about how director Rintaro Mayuzumi filmed it and remade his version. It was Okuyama’s debut as a director. Interestingly, the two versions were released together in Tokyo; the 1995 London Film Festival showed only the producer’s cut, which soon became the one to gain favor. That’s the version I reviewed from an Evergreen video.

Edogawa Rampo (the author whose works were often banned in the 1930s was compared to Edgar Allan Poe) was the pen name of Hirai Taro (1894-1965), author of erotic/imaginative fictional mysteries.

The film is set in Japan in the late 1930s. Edogawa Rampo (Naoto Takenaka) finds in a shop the real woman murderer in a newspaper story, Shizuko (Michiko Hada), who suffocated to death her husband in a treasured heirloom chest. She’s exactly as he had imagined the heroine of his story and this leads him to become obsessed with her. He finds this deliciously strange since the book was banned by the censors and remained unpublished. It therefore deeply puzzles him how this identical murder to his book could have happened. Rampo writes a sequel to the original story and makes Shizuko his heroine again and his hero a pop culture detective, Kogoro Akechi (Masahiro Motoki), who is his handsome fictional alter ego. The author gets so involved with both his story and the real-life situation of Shizuko, that he’s compelled to enter his own story. In the author’s artistic imagination the woman becomes the mistress of an over-the-top perverted Marquis (Mikijiro Hira), whereas she has to be rescued in the seaside castle by the detective.

The film’s delights are all in its showboating visual techniques. There was nothing emotional at stake in this cold story, as the characters were just stick figures who seemed detached from the living and seemed to have nothing to lose or gain by the events. The main character had a surprised look like someone just hit him with a rotten tomato in his kisser, his other look was a grimace to show how sensitive he was about the characters he brings into the world. “Rampo” is even less successful when it tries to show itself as an insider’s view of the creative process, as it runs through some of the risks involved in having a fruitful imagination and taking your imagination too seriously that you lose track of reality. In this film what was lost track of, was how to tell a meaningful narrative without cutesy cinematic gimmicks to string you along when there’s nothing ahead deeper than some more hokum to be uncovered.


REVIEWED ON 10/31/2003 GRADE: C+