A Road Stained Crimson

A Road Stained Crimson


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Tetsuhiko Nono’s remarkable Japanese indie debut signals him as a cine-literate writer and director of verve, invention and visual panache. If he can deliver something with such promise on a low budget first time around, it’ll be exciting to see where A Road Stained Crimson takes him next.

Most days Ken (Hirofumi Arai) repairs motorcycles, watched over at his garage by the motherly Yoko (Jun Fubuki). He’s also a contract killer who is trying, as is the way, to break free from the profession and his Yakuza bosses. When his gently menacing handler Akira (Jun Murakami) comes asking for one last job, the sullen Ken slowly starts to take a stand. Into the midst crashes the silently raging teenager Tsuyoshi (Niinobu Ryomei), recently orphaned and looking to take self-destructive revenge on someone, anyone. An orphan himself, Ken takes Tsuyoshi under his wing and onto his bike, but while both are looking for redemption and resolution of sorts, hitmen aren’t usually in the line for upbeat endings.

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It’s actually a straightforward enough story, but from the off, Nono tells it with occasional staccato editing, prolonged shots, freeze frames, dialogue overlaying mute characters, flashbacks, timeshifts, extended music scenes and an elliptic narrative. It creates a style and pacing that one can gradually warm to and gives his film an intriguing plangency and a growing sense of more depth than perhaps there really is.

Nono has said that his Road is laid with a heavy Western influence and there are references aplenty. Godard’s dash, Besson’s Leon and Tarantino’s underworld sensibility are there, but there are also hints of John Woo’s hyperbole and slow-mo and Chan-Wook Park’s dark poetry. This is also a modern day western, with these moody cowboys riding in on their chrome-gleaming, purring and fetishised motorbikes. Our hero is even named after the real actor Ken Takakura, known as the Japanese Clint Eastwood.

Hirofumi Arai delivers an excellent, downbeat central performance, developing Ken by degrees from a joyless to charismatically caring character. Nono surrounds him with a small, experienced supporting cast featuring the likes of Tomorowo Taguchi (Tetsuo), Masatoshi Nagase and Jun Murakami (Family X) who equally impress.

The chugging, dirty rock music of indie band Snakes on a Beach features just as much as any character. With gig footage (shot specifically for the film) and band member Yusuke Chiba featuring, at first there’s a danger that Nono’s experience as Chiba’s former manager may tip things towards MTV promo territory. He is over-indulgent in the first half, but this does pay off come the finale when the crooning matches up well with Ken, Tsuyoshi and some iconic gun-at-dawn imagery.

This is not the only imbalance in the film and despite the slick style it is still a little rough around the edges. Nono manages, however, to maintain a kinetic energy despite dwelling on his footage over the near two hours running time (captured in just a fortnight’s filming). It coalesces gradually around an emerging pathos that eventually releases a satisfying, emotionally dramatic heart that celebrates and spins the genre conventions that Nono clearly loves so well.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2012
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A former hitman trying to live a quiet life finds himself blackmailed at the same time as a boy arrives in desperate need of his guidance.

Director: Tetsuhiko Nono

Writer: Tetsuhiko Nono

Starring: Hirofumi Arai, Jun Murakami, Niinobu Ryomei

Year: 2012

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Japan


Raindance 2012

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