Judge Adam Arseneau knows exactly how many people will read this review.
Noir-ish, nihilistic and neurotic, Nobody is a train ride of mediocrity through the streets of Tokyo, making all regular stops, except "Plot" station, which is closed for renovation.
Facts of the Case
After a busy day at the office, three co-workers relax in a bar in Tokyo. Almost immediately, Nanbu (Riki Takeuchi (Battle Royale II, Dead or Alive, Fudoh: The New Generation), Konishi (Hideo Nakano) and Taki (Masaya Kato, Gozu, Samurai Resurrection) find themselves on the brink of an altercation between a well-dressed group of men, stone-faced and obviously looking for a fight. Rather than rumble, the friends demure and leave the bar, but Konishi goes back for his umbrella and is given a severe beating by the strangers, who vanish into the night.
The next day, the friends swear revenge and return to the bar, hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious assailants and give back a taste of their own medicine. They catch one of the mystery men in an alley and beat him into unconsciousness, a decision that felt right at the time, but soon has the friends paranoid and questioning their actions. What if the man died from his injuries? What if the police find them?
Soon, the three friends find themselves down an inescapable path of violence and vengeance. They receive mysterious phone calls from the strangers, taunting them and threatening them from all angles. One ends up in the hospital. Accosted from all angles, harassed and assaulted by unknown assailants, things rapidly get out of control.
Nobody is a suspense thriller stripped down to the bone, left bare and naked. Three men walk into a bar and immediately find themselves chased and accosted by mysterious men. Are they Yakuza? Simple businessman? Crooked cops? Pshaw. Such piddling and nitpicking details (called "plot" in North America) matter not here. Free from all such details, you are left with something composed almost entirely on atmosphere and mood, a paranoid dance through the streets of Toyko wracked with brooding guilt and suspicion.
Alas, it sounds a lot cooler than it is. Much of the film—okay, pretty much all of the film—make no sense whatsoever, well and above beyond the acceptable amount an audience is prepared to "let slide" in exchange for stylishness. The idea of mysterious villains pursuing run-of-the-mill businessmen sounds good at first glance, but after twenty minutes or so, one quickly runs out of disbelief to suspend. Then, the good old fashioned kind of disbelief sets in. From start to finish, Nobody gets more and more inane.
"Why?" is a question that one finds themselves asking aloud when watching Nobody, the most profound of which involves one's current activity watching the film. Why are the men being attacked? Why are the bad guys seemingly bullet proof beyond the limits of medical science? Why does the plot make no sense? Why does a six-bullet revolver fire seventeen shots? Why, in a city of millions, is nobody around during all of this craziness? Reality seems a slightly surreal concept in Nobody, like a loose set of guidelines to be followed most of the time, but not necessarily adhered to. And the ending—my god, the ending. A more disjointed assembly of crap I have never seen. It simultaneously manages to be believable (utterly predictable) and unbelievable (as in, "I can't believe they seriously expect us to believe that") at the same time.
The most confusing aspect about Nobody is how much it resembles a bad thriller from the 1980s. The pacing, the music; really, the whole style of the film feel like something you'd pull off the discount VHS rack in a convenience store. It is especially weird considering the film is almost twenty years too late to truly capitalize on the genre. The tacky clothes, square cars and dated and outdated electronics in Nobody all imply the film was made during the 1980s. But this can't be true. It was filmed in 1999. And look, there's a modern cordless phone in that shot. What the heck?
The acting is mediocre at best, painful at worst, with some wretchedly poor acting performances from secondary cast. But Nobody scores big points in the cinematography department. The plot might be dumb as nails, but at least Nobody has style. Aptly directed by Shundo Ohkawa (Double Deception, aka 24 Hours To Die), the camera rarely stays still, constantly circling and rotating around its subjects in nifty ways. The smoky streets, crowded subways and neon haze of Tokyo at night take on a hazy dreamlike appearance, oversaturated in blues and reds like a tacky nightclub from—you guessed it—the 1980s. Indeed, at times, the film seems composed entirely of grainy blacks and electric blues, giving Nobody a wild and fantastic appearance.
The transfer is grainy and damaged, stylish in its own way, but looking about fifteen years older than the film actually is, again perpetuating myth that this film has somehow fallen through a womhole or something from the past. Not a great looking transfer by any stretch, but for a low-budget film, not the worst I've seen. It fits with the film, somehow.
Audio is decent, a moderate stereo presentation with clear dialogue and a tinkling, schizophrenic-like Exorcist-styled piano theme crossed with Miami Vice. With the 1980s again, I know. Hey, synthesized saxophones. It's not my fault. The subtitles are less than perfect, occasionally missing punctuation and making amusing statements of anger like "God Dame!," which is my new favorite expression. No other extras besides a still gallery and a trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Admittedly, Nobody isn't all bad. Any movie with Riki Takeuchi in it automatically wins some points in my book. I'd watch that guy host a Ronco infomercial. Sure, the city is convienantly barren during all sequences of violence, but the hearty Japanese disposition to ignore anything out of the ordinary is riffed on here. Plus, the cinematography is awfully stylish at times. All good things, but not nearly enough of them.
Nobody is stylish and atmospheric, but so much of this film is just atrocious B-movie hokum. We're talking 75% of it here, far beyond the amount that can be rationalized or ignored. Horrendously undermined by its unbelievable plot, this one might be worth a rental if you're feeling particularly nostalgic or looking for a change of pace from standard Japanese cinema. Well, not really.
Not much more I can say about this one. If I saw this movie in 1983, Nobody would be a cutting edge thriller, but today, it's kind of embarrassing that people are still making films like this.
Some moments of genuine inspired filmmaking occur here and there, enough to give credit to, but methinks Nobody is exactly who I'd recommend this film to.
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