A Night in Nude: Salvation (2010) - audacious Japanese Neo-Noir at its finest
127 min Cert. 18
Minor spoilers of both "A NIght in Nude" films.
Ishii's best known film world-wide must still, easily, be Gonin the surreal and memorable gangster thriller starring "Beat" Takeshi Kitano.
Gonin is worth seeking out and worthy of its own review at some point. There's a good chance you've seen it, or that it's available to you on a streaming service or film channel that occasionally shows foreign film. In the UK it pops up sporadically on Film4 late at night.
Ishii's background is extremely interesting. He started out writing racy manga and stories, before penning the scripts for a couple of "pinku" films (basically exploitation films dealing with sexual subjects). What made his work interesting, and it's still very interesting now, is that his work was intelligent and subversive, in a market where it didn't need it to be and it probably wasn't actually wanted. These films were usually excuses to see attractive naked women for an hour, but in Ishii's version of Pinku? The men are often pathetic; losers, bullies - not the suave playboys the male audience expected and would perhaps like to pretend they themselves were. The themes are dark, sometimes tragic; the sexual encounters often leading to ruin for the women involved.
Pinku was supposed to be about consequence-free male power fantasies. Ishii took the form and moulded it into something else.
His heart, now we can look back on his career, largely stayed in this sphere. The huge breakout hit of the thriller Gonin (or The Five) and it's sequel are almost unique in his filmography; films that could connect easily with an audience (and also travel beyond Japan). It's almost like Gonin was made to show people that Ishii could turn his hand to something more commercial if he wanted that. But he wasn't ever interested in chasing an audience or financial success - he was interested in men and women and sexual identity. The real basics of what drives people to be what they are.
As the years went by his films became more challenging but also, for some, more and more rewarding.
This is perhaps his most difficult and demanding film and perhaps a better place to start is with the earlier A Night in Nude - this being a loose sequel featuring the same main character. It's an easier watch and follows the traditional format of a thriller more closely. Both are remarkable films, though they function differently. 17 years passed between the first film and the sequel. Ishii continued to evolve during that time, and the way he saw the world, and people, and the stories he wanted to tell - they changed too.
A beautiful girl hires Jiro to find an expensive watch that she has apparently lost in a forest. He doesn't believe her story but accepts the job anyway, and soon things unravel and become altogether more twisted and murderous. To complicate things even more he has attracted the interest of a persistent policewoman...
This film doesn't lean on the narrative of the first film much, but it's clearly all one emotional journey and knowledge of the first film will certainly inform your enjoyment of this one, though it isn't crucial.
The first film has a number of standout, haunting, scenes (like Jiro's pursuit of a gun or his trying to rescue a drowning woman from a sinking car) and this film also has moments that stay with you long after the film has ended.
A crying woman is objectified by the camera - she sobs while we look, lingering too long, on her naked flesh. She's a person, but she's also a sexual object. We're troubled. How are we supposed to react to this?
In what must be one of the most loaded and complex sex scenes ever seen in a film one character is, mentally, a broken child, but she's also, partly, a calculating seductress. The other character is a good man, but part of him wants to be seduced and doesn't care about anything else. They find solace in each other. Is this a good thing or a bad one? The sex itself is simple, but the drives and histories behind it are not. Perhaps a good man should act better, but he finds himself persuaded by the immediacy of flesh. The couple on screen fall into each other - our minds race.
Four characters drag bodies up a mountain in the night. Logic and self-awareness have been completely abandoned. These aren't people anymore; instead they are shadows, totally consumed by their lusts and locked into horrific behaviour.
In a scene that is almost ten minutes long a naked woman shrieks and repeatedly whips herself. It veers from being hypnotic and emotionally engaging to boring and feeling like bad performance art and then back again...
Some people, understandably, will not be able to invest themselves in much of this. Occasionally characters act and react in unlikely ways and some of the themes and depictions of sex and violence are unpleasant. But it's a film that has it's own fever-dream emotional logic, and people who can engage the film on its own terms will find it incredibly rewarding. If you believe and want film that can take you to new, interesting and challenging places then here's your proof.
The performances are uniformly fantastic. As is often the case it is Ishii's women who make the most striking impression. Hiroko Satô is the obvious standout as the tormented femme-fatale, but Shinobu Ōtake's performance is her equal as the demented harridan mother. Naoto Takenaka is as impressive here as he was in the original film. It's his performance that gives this film its heart and if he were a lesser actor the whole thing would have fallen apart. It does not - instead it soars.
This isn't a film for everyone, but some will find it to be bewilderingly intelligent, moving and truly audacious. Will Ishii return to this character again? Perhaps not, it does feel like the character has come full-circle, but I still find myself hoping that he does. I just hope he doesn't leave it 17 years again.