Invisible Waves (Pen-ek Ratanaruang, 2006)
Tadanobu Asano has been in so many great movies (Rampo Noir, Mongol, Ichi the Killer, Eloi Eloi Lema Sabachthani?, Vital, and I’m only scratching the surface) that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt pretty much every time I see his name. Pen-ek Ratanaruang (6ixtynin9)’s name being added to the bill doesn’t hurt matters any; the two of them had previously teamed up for Last Life in the Universe, which was flawed, but quite beautiful. I was hoping that Ratanaruang’s second (and to date final) collaboration with Asano would return more to the action-comedy hybrid that Ratanaruang had pulled off so well in 6ixtynin9, and which isn’t Asano’s strong suit, but it’s something he’s always been willing to embrace (viz. Screwed or Tokyo Zombie). But no, they ended up making another very pretty, very slow movie, but this one also lacks a plot, and that is its fatal miscalculation; Asano’s considerable acting talents alone are not enough to carry this film, and that is what it relies on.
I could try to give you a plot, but understand that I’m pulling from IMDB here, as I gathered none of this from actually watching the movie: Asano plays Kyoji, a guy who is implicit in the death of his boss’ wife. In a classic case of cinematic stupidity, he tries to outrun his own guilt by fleeing from his Macao home to Phuket. The majority of the film takes place during the boat journey between the two cities. But as the journey progresses, Kyoji begins to suspect that not everyone he meets on board the ship is as unfamiliar with Kyoji’s past as they make themselves out to be.
To call this “incoherent” is understating the case pretty severely. It’s reminiscent of Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine, but without that movie’s structure—nor its comedy. There’s a romance subplot…I think. There are some hit men. (By this time my head was spinning, but I swear I remember these guys from Last Life in the Universe.) There is, as there was in Last Life, a whole lot of unconscionably beautiful scenery. But there is very little to tie it all together, and unless you’re doing that odd structuralist/formalist stuff that stopped being all the rage around 1975, having something to tie it all together—a plot, a theme, a deep and well-thought-out character study, something like that—is not only a good idea, it’s the basis of a good movie. This is pretty, but it’s not much else. **