Sunday, November 1, 2009

XX: Beautiful Weapon (1993)

A young, nameless and blind woman (Masumi Miyazaki), spends her life hidden away in a small villa on the outskirts of a large Japanese city, far enough outside to never be disturbed by anyone or anything. From time to time, a man sends her someone whom she lures into her completely darkened bedroom and shoots in the moment of orgasm.

She is working as an assassin for a big-shot political fixer to keep all his dirty deeds under the carpet. Not surprisingly she is slowly losing her grip on sanity. Leading a life with her only human contact being a father figure who likes to rub his face on her legs and men who don't leave her bedroom alive, she is already on the best way into alcoholism and a good old-fashioned nervous breakdown. When she's not killing she is crying, clutching a glass in one hand and a doll in the other.

What she doesn't know is that her increasingly erratic behaviour makes her boss (who turns out to be a little more than just that) doubt her further usefulness.

Things get complicated when a bar pianist/killer who used to work for her boss ,too, gets it in his head to find out why he hasn't gotten any jobs anymore of late. Supposedly, his drinking and loose mouth are at fault, but he doesn't believe it.

He is able to follow father figure to the woman's place and witnesses her during an assassination and its aftermath. The next night, father figure comes to the killer's bar and tells him that he finally has a new job for him - he is supposed to kill our heroine, but he has to sleep with her first. The killer pianist (take that, Jerry Lee Lewis) knows this to be a trap, yet he still goes to her place, already quietly infatuated.

This entry into the XX series of Japanese Girls with Guns films is a little different from the other parts of the series I have encountered until now in that it really isn't a Girls with Guns film at all. It might contain a girl with a gun, but no action to speak of, and fits more under the genre umbrella of thriller melodrama.

This is not the sort of film I would have expected from a director like Kazuo "Gaira" Komizu, who is best known for the Guts of A Virgin films and the atrocious The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay and therefore not exactly someone I'd connect with concepts like subtlety or the extremely deliberate (people without patience will of course say "boring") pace Beautiful Weapon has.

There isn't a lot happening in the film, but I am a sucker for any attempt to drag the mood of film noir into the neon-coloured 90s. I am also a sucker for films about people who have somehow lost their connection to the world completely and are violently, often tragically, jolted into connecting with it again, which turns out to be what Beautiful Weapon is all about on a thematic level (and which also is an unexpectedly big theme in most of the other XX movies).

On the visual side, Komizu keeps everything as cool and muted as the emotional life of his characters necessitates while doing his best to keep up a certain amount of tension. But it is a film about dead ends and not about sexy shoot-outs, and as such not tense in the way a John Woo film would be.

From time to time, Komizu inserts a dry visual joke viewers not used to this part of Japanese humor will possibly miss completely.

The film has quite a few neat little directorial ideas, just small things like not using any music in the love scene between the two killers, which still go a long way to keep the less than original plot interesting.

Most important for the success of the film is Masumi Miyazaki. The actress is not just putting much more effort into the role than many of her colleagues would, she is putting said effort into the right places. It's one thing to do the cool erotic bit of the role right, but it is quite another one to be believable as a woman both coolly erotic and standing on the threshold of an absolute breakdown.

Also of interest are the very unsubtle jabs at Japan's political culture popping up again and again during the movie's course. Those in power, the film seems to say, would even sacrifice their own daughters to keep it, without a care and without ever making their own hands dirty doing it. That's nothing new, yet also not something you get in every film about blind sex assassins.


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