Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Cinema File #71: "Sushi Girl" Review

Tony Todd and Mark Hamill as gangsters, AND naked Asian ladies with food on them? Shut up and take my money, movie.

Sushi Girl is the story of a group of criminals who come together six years after a somewhat successful diamond heist to welcome back the one member of their crew who got caught and sent to prison, who just happens to be the only one who knows where the stolen loot was stashed before he went away. In terms of the set up and tone, with gangsters gathering after a heist, flashbacks to said heist, tense standoffs between the trigger happy characters, and even a guy tied to a chair and tortured, the comparison to Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs is obvious and inescapable. Still, though it is derivative and not nearly as cool or clever as it seems to think it is, I had fun with it, and would easily recommend giving it a chance.

The Hong Kong action movie sensibility that "inspired" Reservoir Dogs is here replaced with a Japanese motif, set amid the practice of Nyotaimori, or body sushi (thank you Wikipedia), wherein a naked woman is displayed on a table with sushi covering her body. The obvious question of whether these criminals should be talking in front of this woman is quickly asked and dismissed early on, and throughout the movie she acts mostly as a metaphor for the escalating tension, the placement of sushi on her body moving from plain to the poisonous fugu as they dine. She only becomes important in the end, in a twist that is all at once unbelievable and entirely predictable, and I think my major problem with the film is that the titular Sushi Girl is not as crucial as she should be. This should have been done completely from her perspective, like when you see Locked In Syndrome depicted in film, but instead, she just becomes a prop that you forget about, save for a few reaction shots, until she's needed for the end. When I read the premise for this movie, I loved the idea of telling a story like this from the perspective of someone essentially catatonic, and while there is much to like about the film, I felt this was a missed opportunity for something not just stylish, but original as well.

The main story involves the five criminals, one of which is quickly tied to a chair and interrogated by the others for the location of the diamonds. Though its all stuff you've seen before, its still done very well and kept me entertained throughout. Our torture victim, appropriately named Fish, is the closest we get to a protagonist, and as he goes through an increasingly horrifying trial, you can't help but love his almost plucky stubbornness. Tony Todd is the leader of the group, calm and collected, playing it like he's always working three moves ahead, which works as it goes, but is ultimately somewhat disappointing when you realize he isn't as ahead of things as you once thought. Hamill easily steals the show, playing a gross, sweaty, effeminate monster that reminded me of an evil sadistic Jiminy Glick. I'm probably not the best judge though, given how much I love the guy, as I think many people might find his schtick annoying after a while. The crew is rounded out by the impatient muscle and the sympathetic reluctant one who is forgettable save for a scene that I think was supposed to be dramatic, but just made me laugh, in which he snorts cocaine using a rolled up picture of his young son.

Star Trek fan that I am, it's good to see Todd in something where he actually gets to flex his acting chops, instead of just warning teenagers about Death for the umpteenth time, and the movie builds to a mostly satisfying and bloody climax. The almost playful competition between the gangsters over who will make their victim talk first makes what could have been a boring excuse for gore more entertaining than I was expecting, and the obviously Tarantino-esque monologue about why you always want to use the bathroom before a heist had me laughing in spite of myself. We also get a few nice cameos from Frank Lapidus himself Jeff Fahey as a freaked out diamond cutter, and Danny Trejo as a machete wielding killer. Both go by quick and felt like in jokes more than anything. The scene they're in also illustrated a problem I had, in which it is established that the stolen diamonds were taken from an unseen but reputedly dangerous person, which is strangely never resolved. You would think they would not have mentioned it unless it was going to come back in the end, which would have been a better twist than the one we got, but as it stands, it just came off as a dropped thread, or maybe given all the other Tarantino references, a half-assed aborted attempted at a Marsellus Suitcase mystery.

And yet, overall, I think Sushi Girl works as a tense, violent, crime thriller. The lapses in logic, stylish excesses, and sometimes aimless plot are all saved by the performances and a few choice bright spots that just push the film over the edge into something I'd recommend. If only to see Mark Hamill in a role few have ever seen him in outside of Batman: The Animated Series, I'd say give it a watch.

Me? I'm gonna go watch The Guyver again, so I can see Hamil not become the titular cyborg superhero, despite what that damn lying box cover art tells me.

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