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DVD Review: “Chaos/Kaosu” (1999/Japan) by Hideo Nakata

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While director Hideo Nakata is well-known for his works in the horror genre with titles such as “The Ring”/ “Ringu” (1998) and “Dark Water” (2002), much can be said for one of his lesser-known works “Chaos” / “Kaosu” (1999).

More of a suspense thriller than a horror flick, “Chaos” speaks of a lie gone wrong, a deception gone askew and a love gone bad. Few films explore the underlying implications of a lie more intensively and excessively than “Chaos”, with concentrated focus on the efforts taken by the perpetrators to cover up their lies – resulting in devastating consequences with no chance of redemption or deliverance.

Surpassing typical films in terms of chronological arrangement of elements, “Chaos” adopts a sporadic fashion in moving the plot forward – much like “Memento” (2000) (which progresses in reverse chronological order).

While enigmatic and confusing initially, the audience will be drawn into the film once the dots are connected and the intricate details revealed. Satisfaction drawn from this film does not derive from the mere act of watching but rather, from the ultimate  fulfillment in completing the scenes in one’s mind as the plots twist and turn while the complexity of the characters serve to engage and mesmorise the audience every step of the way.

Covering up a murder is typical of story lines but when a doppelganger is thrown in for good measure, the plot thickens and the suspense intensifies. And when the kidnapper becomes a victim of the kidnapped, things begin to take an interesting turn for the macabre. When the kidnapper has to impersonate a detective to uncover the truth, the audience are in for a treat as provokers become victims and the victimised winds up as the predators.

Breaking conventional and traditional film-making, Hideo Nakata creates a film that builds more on an understanding of abstract and complex inter-meshing thematic elements such as lies, deceit, truth and ingenuity  than on plot development. As the movie reaches its finale, the lines become blurred between the identify of the protagonists and the antagonists, and ambiguity increases as to who are the players and who are being played.

Miki Nakatani shines as both the nubile lady who seduces the kidnapper and the canny manipulator who vacillates her affections between different lovers. Emotionally unstable and maniacally Machiavellian in nature, Miki’s performance in the film as both Satomi and Saori is a tour-de-force, and probably rates as one of her best works in her cinematic achievements.

In an intensely memorable scene, she coldly squeezed the injured hand of a wife-killer causing him to shout out in pain and indifferently urges him to start a cat-and-mouse game with the police when the latter is intent on giving himself up whereas seconds before, she is still taking on the personae of a gullible lady who happens to be caught in a scene of violence – exhibiting the perfect trademark of a psychopath.

Her drastic changes and shifts in personalities are exemplified in the dressing she chooses to indulge in. Be it in a svelte evening dress with her hair let down as a sensuous and coquettish damsel in distress that exudes strong sexuality or as a childish lady dressed in a conservative blouse who refused to grow up, Miki pulls it off with flair and finess – both as an actress and  as a personification of the ever-fleeting human soul.

Is the effort to cover up a lie and the price to be paid worthwhile?

What is redemption?

Where does a crime begin and where does it end?

These are some questions addressed by the film, which makes it one of the most thought-provoking films to date. An intensive exploratory study into the basic tenets of human nature is a complementary addition to a film which is an exact embodiment of a life gone astray, a love story gone sour and a choice gone wrong.

A strong parallel can be drawn between this film and another recent Korean film “I saw the Devil” (2010) currently screening in local theatres, where both illustrate the tragic results of those who went down the wrong path in life.

Be it the covering up of a lie in the former or a mind hell-bent on revenge in the latter, there is only one end – a one-way trip down the alley of debauchery, a downward spiral into the bottomless abyss, a horrifying descent into the world of anguish, pain, regret, sadness, insanity and madness.

 

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