Chaos (1999) Movie Review

Hideo Nakata, best known for the genre defining Japanese horror “Ringu”, has finally given in to the persuasive lure of Hollywood, signing up for the sequel to the remake of his original film. Time will tell whether his talents transfer well and if he fares better than other Asian directors like John Woo, but in the meantime, Western fans can be content with the opening up of his back catalogue, making several of his earlier works available in all their subtitled glory.

“Chaos” is one of these; a kidnap thriller from 1999, which itself has been slated for a US makeover. Although clearly inspired by Hitchcock, Nakata manages to add a few new twists to the formula, coupled with an interesting, non-chronological structure that keeps the viewer guessing in a way which for once does not patronize and which is relatively uncluttered by pointless exposition. The film is intriguing, cleverly plotted and very entertaining, making it a must-see not only for fans of Asian cinema, but also for anyone who enjoys films of engrossing mystery.

“Chaos” is a film that derives most of its entertainment value from its labyrinth of plot twists and turns, and so I’ll just provide a very basic synopsis. Kuroda (Masato Hagiwara, “Cure”) is lured into a fake kidnapping scheme by Saori (Miki Nakatani, “Ringu” and “Ringu 2”)) a beautiful young woman who claims that she wants to test her husband’s love for her. Kuroda goes along with the scheme, tying up Saori in an empty apartment and calling her husband with the ransom demands. However, when he later returns, he finds her dead, and is contacted by the killer who instructs him to dispose of the corpse or face the police. Kuroda does this, but finds himself haunted by visions of Saori, who he comes to believe may not be dead after all.

Although this may seem fairly familiar stuff, it really is only the basis from which the real story develops. Nakata keeps things fresh by playing out events through a disjointed time scale, forcing the viewer to fill in a lot of blanks and to work out exactly what is going on before it all comes together in the end. This is done very well, and the fact that much of the action is seen from the viewpoints of different characters gives the film an almost “Rashomon”-style commentary on the nature of truth. It is quite refreshing to see a film which does not feel the need to have characters constantly explaining their actions, or which is not filled with countless justifications or condescending scenes of reiteration.

In “Chaos”, Nakata simply lets the story tell itself, challenging the viewer to keep pace. The downside to this is that the characters are not really fleshed out, and though we are gripped by their actions, we never truly care about their fates, which is a shame as the potential was definitely there for some particularly harrowing emotional bruising. At times this gives everything a detached air, and more like an exercise in style and narrative rather than any kind of attempt to connect with the audience. This does seem to be deliberate rather than through any fault of the actors, as the performances are all first rate.

Nakata’s direction is skillful and assured, eschewing action set pieces or confrontations in favor of the same eerie, minimalist atmospherics that enriched “Ringu”. He is quite comfortable to tell the tale at his own, deliberate pace, keeping the viewer hooked through a clever series of plot twists and payoffs. The film’s tension is gradually notched up through a series of skillfully framed revelations, though Nakata thankfully avoids most of the obvious or clich’d visual devices despite a fair number of flashbacks. It is fair to note that there is very little visceral action in the film, and since the script itself is quite bare, some may find themselves impatiently waiting for the surprising denouement.

Overall, “Chaos” is a film that is highly recommended for fans of the director or simply for anyone who enjoys a good mystery. Though somewhat cold, the film is intelligent and treats its audience without condescension, making the bold move of daring to assume that viewers can actually think and interpret events for ourselves.

Hideo Nakata (director) / Hisashi Saito (screenplay)
CAST: Masato Hagiwara …. Kuroda
Miki Nakatani …. Saori
Ken Mitsuishi …. Komiyama

Buy Chaos on DVD