Notes from a Video Store Burnout 

An enlightened trip down the New Release aisle

Japanese writer-director Shundo Ohkawa's Nobody is not the most original of action thrillers. Soaked in the de rigueur cold blues of neo-noir, the film's unassuming central characters are locked in an ever-intensifying cycle of paranoia and violence. There's a femme fatale with betrayal stamped on her forehead and a series of intended shocks when villains appear out of thin-air behind an unsuspecting victim, or when the presumed dead return to life and keep on fighting. You can see the surprise twist in the final scene coming from a mile away. By all rights, Nobody should be a grinding bore. The film's mechanics may be overly familiar, but Ohkawa sets them turning in a way that's anything but dull. The trigger of all the generic mayhem is a barroom brawl over, of all things, male fashion. After a discussion about Hermès ties ("It's Wall Street standard") and Belsercci suits ("Italian fashion isn't happening"), three cocksure advertising executives (Masayo Kato, Riki Takeuchi, Hideo Nakano) direct a few catty comments at the attire of three other suits (Jinpachi Nezu, Hiromi Nakajima, Yumi Nishiyama) seated at a nearby table. "Did you call us tacky?" are the fighting words that turn the cushy lives of the offending yuppies upside down. They find themselves relentlessly stalked by the slighted trio. This initial scenario allows Ohkawa to pursue his own brand of social anthropology, as he mines the pent-up, aggressive fantasies of the office-cubicle male for thrills. At first, the ad execs are willing to play along--fighting back, tit-for-tat--until they realize that the guys they're up against aren't just blowing off steam. When the game turns to murder, all bets are off. The degree of mental terror and physical brutality the mysterious avengers level at the admen (their arsenal includes scissors and a crossbow) is so out of proportion to the initial slight that what might otherwise come off as thriller cliché is here supercharged with pure psychosis. Helping things along, Ohkawa and his cast play it all straight as the director builds and holds riveting tension, with a tight pace that never wavers. Nobody is available on VHS and DVD.

Other Recommended new releases: The Mirror (VHS).

Also released this week:

VHS: Demolition High.

VHS/DVD: Africa's Elephant Kingdom, The Blackout, Cash Crop, Cypress Edge, High Noon, Meltdown, Panic, The Pianist, Proof of Life, Rowing Through, Save the Last Dance, Spanish Judges, Stalker, Sweet Jane.

DVD: Billy Liar, Cries & Whispers, Garden of the Finzi Continis, My Man Godfrey, Othello, Richard III.

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