Fu-Rai (White Panic) (Shugo Fujii, 2005)
[note: review originally published 17Jan2010]
You have seen this story before. Four young adults—Ken (The Laughing Policeman‘s Shugo Oshinari), Yumi (The Last Supper‘s Ayaka Maeda), Kim (Pandemic‘s Kazuo Yashiro), and Boo (Fumiaki Mitsuyama in what is, to date, his only screen appearance)—wake up in a room whose floor is covered in white powder. They are unable to get out, and they have never met one another before. They have to figure out how they got there, why they got there, and most importantly, how to escape before the scary guys in the biohazard suits who come in every once in a while and force-feed them a mysterious liquid do something more rash, like killing them.
The fact that you have seen this story before (and variations on the theme are ubiquitous these days; I am of the opinion that all of them are cockeyed spinoffs of Six Characters in Search of an Author in some odd way) makes it no less worth watching this time around. It’s an order of magnitude better than any of the Saw films since the second one, any of the Cube films since the first one, and any of the subgenre’s torture-porn entries. It’s better than the Spanish entry in the subgenre, Fermat’s Room. It is, of course, nowhere near as good as Pirandello, but Fujii (Living Hell), who also wrote the script, has the same eye for character detail Pirandello does, if he’s nowhere near as good at pulling it off. Also, Fujii, like a number of recent Japanese directors working on stuff like this (think Tsukamoto’s forty-five-minute Haze as one recent example), has no patience for drawing out the action; the movie clocks in at right around seventy minutes, making every shot important. Would that American directors were willing to abandon the seeming eighty-five-minute minimum Hollywood imposes on its feature films.
The characters have only as much depth as the plot allows them, and at least one doesn’t get much of a chance to act (Boo is insane from the outset, and only gets worse as time goes on), but the actors do a good job with the material, and the big twist at the end, presaged in the film’s opening scene, is not at all what you expect it to be. One last note: the film was originally released in English-speaking countries under the name Junk, but that was later changed to White Panic, presumably to avoid confusion with Atsushi Muroga’s 2000 zombie film Junk. While Muroga’s film is the better of the two, both are worth seeing. *** ½
Long-form (over three minutes!) trailer. Warning: NSFW (brief nudity).