SIFF Review: Inju, the Beast in the Shadow

Tehran-born French writer-director Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune, Single White Female) introduced the screening of his latest by declaring, in a fromage-thick accent, this is "the movie of a film buff." He wasn't kidding. Shot mostly in Tokyo (which doubles for Kyoto), the artifice of genre cinema, particularly noir, serves as the fulcrum of this taut, if predictable, psychological thriller. Adapted by Schroeder, Jean-Armand Bougrelle and Frédérique Henri from a novel by the late, and legendary, Japanese detective novelist Edogawa Rampo (that his name phonetically mirrors Edgar Allen Poe's is no coincidence), the story follows arrogant French crime writer Alex Fayard's (Benoît Magimel) search for the reclusive and mysterious Shundei Oe, a thinly-veiled Rampo whose work Alex reveres even as the press declares him Shundei's successor. Shortly after Alex enlists the help of his Japanese publisher's publicity flak Honda (Gen Shimaoka), the plot further thickens (an apt description for this purposefully self-conscious potboiler) when a beautiful, French-speaking geisha named Tamao (Lika Minamoto) informs Alex that she knows Shundei--and that he's trying to kill her.

Schroeder and his cinematographer Luciano Tovoli--whose previous credits include another film which revels in lush visuals: Julie Taymor's hallucinatory adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus--shot Inju in Super 35, giving a high-contrast gleam to Fumio Ogawa's ornate yet subdued production design. Think traditional noir photography in reverse: light is emphasized over shadow. The movie's retina-stimulating pleasures, however, cannot mask the by-the-numbers plot, which, regardless of Schroeder's intent to tip his hat to genre artifice, makes for a far less exciting experience than could have been. It's scary and even funny throughout, but new frontiers weren't really explored. For example, that Shundei is more talked about than seen a la Orson Welles' Harry Lime cannot hide the fact that this isn't the The Third Man so much as it is Basic Instinct. And, ultimately, that's just not good enough. (105 mins)

Inju, the Beast in the Shadow Uptown, 1:15 p.m. Sat., June 6 and Cinerama, 4:15 p.m. Fri., June 12.

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