etsurou Wakamatsu's Whiteout is a Die Hard In A...
Movie, with a vehicle, location, or situation put in place of the ellipsis. In
this case, we're dealing with a Die Hard In a Dam. Like all subgenres of action,
Die Hard In A... Movies have their own set of conventions, including terrorists
(or some form of armed and dangerous group) and hostages -- plenty of hostages,
the more of them the better, since some will need to be shot in order to
convince the local authorities that the terrorists are serious. The local cops,
in turn, will quickly be taken over by the federal authorities (or an
organization of higher power), who will foul everything up, proving that local
is better. Our hero will be among the hostages before they become hostages, but
by sheer luck or coincidence he will escape capture to roam the grounds and plot
a way to fight back. The hero's love interest, or potential love interest, will
be among the hostages, thereby ensuring that the hero doesn't run off to safety
if he's so inclined, but instead pits himself against the thugs in order to
liberate her and save the day.
Whiteout opens with our hero, Togashi (Yuji Oda) and
his best friend and fellow rescuer as they attempt to rescue two lost hikers on
the mountainside in the middle of a dangerous blizzard. The two friends work at
Japan's largest dam, a self-sustained fortress in the countryside that is
accessible by only one route and is otherwise sealed off from the rest of the
world by mountains and snow. The rescue turns ugly, and Togashi's best friend is
killed when Togashi attempts to go for help, but doesn't return in time.
Fast-forward 3 months later, as a group of armed terrorist seizes control of the
dam, destroys the only road in, and sends out blackmail notices to the Japanese
Government for 5 billion yen or else they will kill the hostages and flood the
entire countryside with water by destroying the dams. Togashi had managed to
escape the terrorists, and now must return to save his fellow co-workers and
Chiaki (Nanako Matsushima), the fiancé of Togashi's deceased best friend, who
has come to visit the dam for closure over her loss. Can Togashi overcome his
fear of failure and guilt and save Chiaki and the others? Or will he run, as
Chiaki believes he will?
If you've seen Bruce Willis' Die Hard, the original
movie that began this subgenre, than you've seen Whiteout, a movie that
follows the Die Hard In A... conventions so closely it's impossible to
distinguish it from the original movie that started it all. You have terrorists,
an Everyman hero, his love interest, sympathetic local cops, dumb federal cops,
and terrorists who have a clever escape plan up their sleeves, not to mention an
ulterior motive for their actions. In fact, except for Whiteout's opening
and ending sequences, which have nothing to do with the actual terrorist plot, Whiteout
is a plot by plot translation of Die Hard.
What makes Whiteout stand out is its hero, who is
even more of an Everyman than Bruce Willis (whose character was a cop in Die
Hard) could ever hope to be. Togashi, the rescuer of Whiteout, is not
a brave man. In fact, the only reason he is even doing anything to stop the
terrorists is because he feels a great sense of guilt for having lost his best
friend in the blizzard 3 months ago. And now, with said best friend's fiancé
trapped within the dam, Togashi sees it as a chance at redemption. Through sheer
will and a lot of luck, Togashi is taking on well-trained gunmen and always just
barely staying alive.
His adventures are worthwhile to follow because he's
so out of his element and so over his head that it's exciting to watch him
triumph over his enemies. He's us in every way, driven not by any sense of duty
or courage, but simply because he failed once and is unwilling to fail again,
and is acting on instinct and pure determination. Yuji Oda does well as Togashi,
even if the rest of the cast has very little to do.
Whiteout looks and feels like a big-budget movie. It
has all the required explosions, shootouts, and difficult sequences involving
flooding tunnels, chases along hillsides, and dangerous, suffocating blizzards.
The movie manages to keep its story interesting because there's a feeling that
even the terrorists aren't on the same page, with each one seemingly possessing
his own personal agenda. Just who is in charge here? Are the terrorists playing
with the cops, or are the terrorists playing with each other?