A Night in Nude: Salvation (DC)

July 23, 2011

Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau (Japan, 2010)

Takashi Ishii, mostly stuck with low budgets S&M films these days, was once Japan’s most interesting noir director. His early 90’s films such as A Night in Nude (1993) and Alone in the Night (1994) beautifully brought his trademark neon-lit visuals to 35 mm film. A Night in Nude was the most interesting of those neo noir films, not only visually, but also because of a fantastic starring performance by Japan’s ignored gem of an actor, Naoto Takenaka. A Night in Nude: Salvation brings the duo back to limelight, although with a digital flavor this time.

A Night in Nude: Salvation is a follow-up to the original, although not directly related in terms of storyline. But in terms of theme and context, it’s old school Ishii to a pleasing extent. Takenaka is back as Muraki, a private entrepreneur promising to tackle all assignments within legal limits. Mostly, his work consists of substituting gigs – attending memorials in place of others, or even taking dogs out for a piss. But the ill-lucked noir hero attracts trouble – last time he fell to a yakuza woman. This time he’s offered a seemingly harmless task: to regain a gold watch that was lost when a deceased man’s ashes were scattered in forest.

Hired by an innocent looking young woman, little does Muraki know the dead man didn’t turn into ashes the normal way: he was, in fact, killed by three women who accidentally lost the vital piece of evidence while getting rid of body parts (in a scene highly reminiscent of Sion Sono’s Cold Fish, 2010). Murakami soon finds himself in a situation reflecting the past events (from the original movie). He’s somewhere between the merciless yakuza and the women who might still have hope of being pulled off from this dark world. It’s his change for salvation; to correct the old mistakes and finally do something good.

A Night in Nude: Salvation looks and feels what Ishii fans have been hoping for even since he stopped making crime and yakuza-eiga. Ishii’s neo-Tokyo in Salvation is instantly recognizable with its neon lights, strip clubs, and mental case yakuza running the night life. Murakami’s quests for answers drive him ever deeper into the night. There, he walks across Nikkatsu legend Joe Shishido, probably assumed dead by most viewers by now. Ishii shows little respect to the screen legend: he is made portray the biggest sleazebag in the entire film.

One area where Salvation falls slightly short is the technical side. Ishii knows how to use digital to a decent effect, but it’s nevertheless a mismatch to his slightly romanticized neo-noir style. The original film looked more colorful and was visually more detailed, no doubt because Ishii was able to draw bigger budgets back then. Salvations does, nevertheless, look good – just not quite as good as it could in a better world.

As screenwriter Ishii has always excelled (for his grade bravura see Shinji Somai’s haunting Love Hotel, 1985). Salvation fares quite well in this respect for its first three quarters. Despite the violently and sexually graphic images Salvation is very much a story film – and a strong one at that. It’s only towards the end that Ishii steps into a psychological landmine. It’s also to be mentioned that some of Muraki’s motivations and naivety towards the end may not fully open to viewers unfamiliar with the character’s past misadventures.

Most negatives are compensated by strong casting. For the Takenaka fans Salvation is indeed a salvation: the man has been found in too many Noboru Iguchi film cameos in the recent years. His screen opponent, played by the 30 year younger Hiroko Sato, is quite a sight. Aside her looks, the stunning gravure idol actually manages her acting duties rather well, despite challenging role. Less can be said about the supporting female bunch, all of whom have been written as cinematic pains in the ass.

A Night in Nude: Salvation was released in two versions. The original theatrical version cut tons of graphic footage to secure an R-15 rating. The second theatrical print restored these shots and more, adding almost 20 minutes to the running time. While adding quite a decent bit to the characters, as well as showing full frontal Hiroko Sato nudity at every other turn, the extended version does probably over-explain and lengthen the already long-enough noir pic. Without having seen the original 126 minute version, one might assume the shorther version to be slightly superior of the two cuts. Nevertheless, Salvation is by far the most interesting Ishii film in at least 10 years, regardless of version viewed. Finally strong Japanese neo-noir is back on silver screen!

Note: the version screened at Nippon Connection was, against all announcements and catalogue information, the longer Director’s Cut running approximately 145 minutes.

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