Without knowing in advance about the premise or plot, Rage throws at-first disjointed events and characters at the viewer. The connections slowly unfurl with a manhunt revealing three possible identities of a murderer. If however, the viewer goes into this 142-minute drama cum suspense thriller with the notion that it is a horror film, this isn’t the case. Perhaps by design, the mis-typing of Lee Sang-il’s film gives it the advantage of surprising its audience. It is Shunji Iwai-esque in its epic-length and treatment of subject matter. It follows multiple characters – misfits – whose confusion and grief propel their coming-of-age. Scenic Okinawan locations are juxtaposed against the neons of Tokyo, and the viewer is drawn into the relation between characters and environment.
Rarely seen in Japanese film, the gay community is surprisingly well showcased. Rage tackles several still-taboo subjects in this area, such as online hookups, what constitutes a ‘family’, and how to deal with chosen-family burial. The exchanges between characters in this story arc are touching and always a bit melancholic. The character of Naoto (Go Ayano) always wears a sad expression, even when he appears to be enjoying the moment.
The concept of family is prominent. All three key families are monoparental. Each child has a slightly strained yet warm relationship with their parent. In each of the three story arcs, there is an errant third party. These ‘orphans’ are adopted into the core family without much research into the newcomer’s background. As such, each ‘orphan’ easily becomes a suspect in the murder case.
We could probably rename the film The Hopelessness and Helplessness of Rage. The protagonists express helplessness at changing things that others have done to them. They are not laissez-faire, but rather, hopeless that an outsider would or could help. Why report a rape when nobody will believe us? There is a lack of confidence in authority figures (such as police), and a self-shaming attitude created by the notion that others judge and misjudge. The fear of being ostracized for something someone else did TO us throws us into hopelessness and eventually, rage. Sometimes this anger makes us scream into the Okinawan surf, or dance and drink away our feelings in a Kabukicho (Shinjuku, Tokyo’s redlight and gay district) nightclub. For others still, the rage is so strong that it provokes enough psychosis to kill anyone that should look at us the wrong way.
Rage isn’t for all movie buffs, as it should come with a trigger warning. Aside from the strong emotions and homosexual sex, there is a very violent rape by US troop goons on an innocent teenage girl. Apparently this scene portrays real life aspects of living on Okinawa’s main island of Naha. Although it is seldom spoken about, this sort of assault is quite common. Suzu Hirose plays her part convincingly. Great attention has been given to her transformation post-rape. Wardrobe and styling give the character a subtle change that speaks volumes about her situation. As with Suzu, all the actors have done a supreme job, balancing the subtleties of emotion from happy and curious to sad and furious. Of note, Ken Watanabe is seen here in a subdued ‘strong but silent’ type role.
Score by Ryuichi Sakamato.
A very dark film worth seeing.
Rage plays at the Fantasia Festival. DB Clark Theatre (Concordia), July 29th, 2017 at 8:30 pm.