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Kaosu - Chaos (Nakata Hideo 1999)



Genre: Psychological Thriller

review in one breath

Kaosu (English title Chaos) is a mind-spinning psychological suspense directed by Nakata Hideo whose other works include the trend-setting Ringu (1998), Ringu 2 (1999), and Dark Water (2002). This film is indeed a suspense story rather than of the horror genre for which Nakata has recently become so well known in the West. The movie is based on a work written by Saito Hisashi and employs a shifting timeline which provides dramatic incremental clues into the unfolding complex plot. Nakata fans will enjoy Kaosu for its most endearing characteristic: pure psychological manipulation of the viewer without recourse to special effects or blood and gore. This, of course, is precisely what makes Nakata's horror films so effective and internationally appealing.

Please note that the following review is full of spoilers. This movie has so many plot twists and time-line reversals that a first viewing consists almost solely of trying to figure out what is really going on. If you intend to watch the movie yourself (which, by the way, is available in the U.S. in a sub-titled version, though this review is based on the original non-sub-titled Japanese version), you may wish to do so before reading further.

The film's title shot consists of the word "Chaos" written across the backdrop of torrential rain hitting grey pavement. The scene then shifts to a bight and sunny day.

The film opens with the well-to-do Komiyama having lunch with his beautiful wife Saori at an upscale restaurant. They seem a picture of love and success. Noting that Komiyama's bandaged hand is causing him some pain and difficulty, she asks about his pain in a concerned voice and lovingly cuts his steak for him. Following the meal, Komiyama walks back to the office while Saori apparently heads home. Later in the day, Komiyama receives a call at his office from from a muffled voice claiming to have kidnapped his wife for a ransom of 3 million yen (3000 man en). When Komiyama asks to speak to Saori, we see that Saori is tied and then gagged on the floor. Following the call, Komiyama contacts the police and standard scenes ensue with detectives huddling around Komiyama's dining room table with various listening devices, waiting for the kidnapper to call back. When he does, Komiyama is informed to take the money by taxi to a disclosed location, which he does, and then waits for the kidnapper to claim the ransom.

Kuroda-san is a Benri-ya san, a "handyman" who will literally do anything if the price is right. That he has fallen on hard times is clearly established by the fact he lives in a trash-strewn home, separated from his estranged wife and son Noboru. It is also evidenced in one of the opening scenes where we find Kuroda nervously orchestrating a fake kidnapping aimed at bilking a middle-aged mother out of money to save her son. Kuroda is indeed very smart and resourceful, but often employs these in unethical means for purely financial gain.

The scene then changes and we are outside Kuroda's house. Saori is walking by and sees Kuroda's "Benri-Ya" (handy man) advertisement out front (stating that he will do anything for a fee). She knocks on the door and inquires whether she can hire the services of Kuroda, and then plunks 1 million yen (1000 man en) in his hand. She asks if he will orchestrate a fake kidnapping of her (I didn't catch the reason why) and ransom her for her husband's money. She claims to have the perfect place, an out-of-town friend's apartment, to stay while the "kidnapping" plays out. Kuroda mulls this over, and under the sway of the very persistent Saori agrees. Looking at Saori, Kuroda thinks he remembers her from somewhere and asks her if they have never met. She doesn't think so. They head to the apartment where they sit and discuss a strategy. The main concern is fooling the police once the ransom has been collected and Saori released. Thus for sake of "realism", they agree that Saori will not shower, eat regularly, or feed her friend's fish (which she was asked to do) for the duration of the ploy. She will also need to be tied hand and foot, so that there will be signs of her being restrained. Saori agrees and changes back into the gown she wore at lunch earlier that day with her husband (in the opening scene). Koruda then ties her up and prepares to call Komiyama.

Here the subtheme of Kuroda and Saori's strong feelings for each other emerges. As Kuroda ties her up, they both seem to get a little hot and steamy. As they are about to kiss, Kuroda begins to rough up Saori, now tied and unable to resist. As he moves from kissing to groping, she becomes distressed and cries "Stop!", at which point Kuroda abruptly ceases. He then calls Komiyama as if he intended solely to get her emotions frightened enough to exude some realism. Their attraction for each other will reappear here and there throughout the story and will prove critical to the ending.

That evening, Kuroda returns to the apartment. To avoid their being detected, they had agreed to keep the lights out. Entering the dark apartment with flashlight in hand, he does not find Saori in the living room. Calling out but hearing nothing, he ventures further into the apartment until he finds Saori laying on the floor with the cord of a hair dryer wrapped around her neck. Touching her arm he rears back, realizing that she is now cold and dead. The phone suddenly rings, and on the other end a mechanized male voice scoffingly questions Kuroda as to why he is so brave as to answer the phone, whether he killed Saori, or whether he truly believes the police will believe his explanation of events. The caller makes it plain that Kuroda is trapped by circumstances, and then asks Kuroda for a "favor". The caller wants Kuroda to dispose of the body. Though he first refuses, he ultimately agrees to do so after the caller threatens to inform the police of Kuroda's situation. Kuroda wraps the body in a sheet, places it in the back of his van, and drives far into the woods to bury it in the dark of night.

The next day, the weary Kuroda buys several newspapers to read up on any information discovered in the kidnapping. While at a stoplight, he sees Saori walk by. This sets Kuroda's mind whirling and so that evening he heads back out to the woods and digs up the body. As he uncovers the face, he can only vomit as he discovers he has buried someone other than Saori, a middle-aged woman who looks amazingly like Saori.

Back at Komiyama's office he sits with police who are sharing with him some stern reality. Apparently no one came to pick up the ransom, and the kidnapper has not called back. Though Komiyama is holding out hope, the police express their concern that Saori has been murdered. Komiyama cannot understand why she would be murdered, especially since he was prepared to pay.

Meanwhile, Kuroda shows up and portrays himself as a "detective" at the apartment complex's management to inquire about the owner of the apartment used for the kidnapping. The manager brings out the lease and explains that it is rented by a Shima Satomi, who, he divulges, works for some sort of modeling agency. Visiting the modeling agency acting as a talent scout, Kuroda is able to question Rumi, a friend of Satomi, as to her likely whereabouts.

The scene then changes to Kuroda arriving at a home with his toolbox. The young woman inside has called him to help with a major plumbing leak. After he finds the water main and shuts off the water, he looks to see a very wet yet pretty and smiling young woman, who very obviously catches his eye as he stands and stares. We see that she is a younger and more innocent-faced Saori.

Then, Komiyama sits waiting in what looks to be a hotel room. There is a knock at the door and in walks Saori. They look very glad to see each other and are soon in a passionate embrace, but not before talking about the dangers of their plan. Saori assures him that he should not worry and that she won't be discovered.

The scene changes and it is raining heavily against the street's pavement. We recognize that this is the same scene from the film's title shot. As the camera pans back, we see a woman under a red umbrella slowly but deliberately approach the apartment building. From her appearance she looks like Saori, but when she reaches the apartment door, we see that she is someone else, someone who looks like Saori but is somewhat older. Before ringing the bell, she pulls a large cooking knife out of her purse and raises it.

The scene suddenly shifts to Komiyama painfully rinsing his severely cut hand. As Saori goes to the freezer to get some ice for his hand, we see the body of the other woman on the floor. As Saori looks at the body, she has a flashback, in black and white, of the proceeding moments: The woman rushes at Komiyama with large knife raised. Instinctively, Komiyama grabs the blade and wrestles the woman to the ground, where he slowly strangles her with his remaining free hand. During the struggle, Saori can see the reflection of her terrorized eyes in the wide silver blade (this scene is used for the cover of the Japanese VHS and DVD). The flashback ends and the two sit at the table bandaging Komiyama's hand, while Saori persistently asks whether he really thinks she looks like his wife. They then discuss how they can possibly discard the body without getting caught.

(I couldn't really place or figure out this next scene in terms of the story's overall timeline and plot.) We see Kuroda outside and strolling with a young woman who looks like the young Saori from the plumbing scene. As they walk along, Kuroda suggests that the woman speak openly to him, since he will certainly "keep her secret". She then divulges that she would like him to orchestrate a kidnapping of her to test whether her husband's feelings for her is still true. She relates that he seems to have a mistress and she really does not want to lose her husband, so her understanding whether he still loves her or not is critical. She shyly offers him 100,000 yen (10 man en) for his services.

Saori and another young model are wrapping up a photo session (modelling something akin to sturdy alaskan underwear). As she exits the studio, Kuroda is there and calls out her name. She turns and sees Kuroda, and then flees, smiling, on foot with Kuroda in hot pursuit. He eventually catches and tackles her. When she breaks out in laughter, confessing that she knew he would be resourceful enough to find her, he accuses her of being the mastermind behind all of this, to which she readily agrees. When he asks why she got him involved, she states that it is simply because he is a Benri-ya san, someone who is hired to do something, anything for money. But Kuroda is not ready to be played with in this manner, and takes Saori back to the apartment where he makes her dress up like Komiyama's wife, wig, lipstick and all. She then arranges a meeting with Komiyama in which she divulges that Kuroda has found her and is demanding 3 million yen from Komiyama to keep quite. Komiyama is greatly distraught at the news, but agrees to pay. As Komiyama and Saori talk, they are being watched by policemen in an auto down the street. They recognize that the woman dressing like his wife is in fact not his wife.

When Komiyama and Saori show up at the apartment with the money, Kuroda is waiting in his car down below. Calling the apartment, he directs Komiyama to give the money to Saori and have her jump to the next apartment's balcony to deliver the money. Komiyama gives Saori a knife he brought along for protection and urges her to defend herself if necessary. Once Saori has left the apartment, Kuroda directs Komiyama to enter the bathroom. There Komiyama finds the decomposing body of his wife in the bathtub. Komiyama drop to the floor and wretches repeatedly as the police enter the apartment and find the body.

Down below, Saori has left the building and enters Kuroda's van with the money. They quickly leave and drive throughout the night. In the early morning they wake from sleeping in the car. As they turn to each other, they are overcome with passion and begin to make use of the van's highly reclineable seats. As Kuroda (re?)familiarizes himself with Saori's nether regions, he comes across the knife tucked away in her garter. As Kuroda removes the knife, Saori tries to snatch it away, shaking her head as if denying she was plotting against him. The suspicion in Kuroda's eyes and the inability of Saori to explain matters demonstrates how tenuous this relationship has always been. As they stare at each other, they hear a police siren approaching in the distance, no doubt due to the confession of Komiyama. Saori flees the van, more out of fear of Kuroda than of the police, and Kuroda once again chases after her in hot pursuit through the woods. When they finally arrive at an impassable cliff, they turn to look at each other as large rain drops begin to fall. It becomes apparent to Saori that Kuroda has no intention of harming her. He confesses that he has "thrown away everything" for her. "Then let's go together" Saori suggests and takes his hand in hers. She leads him, running, toward the large cliff overlooking the ocean. But before they reach the edge, Kuroda hesitates and then decides not to follow Saori. He lets go her hand as she continues to run.

As she leaps off the cliff, she spins around to smile widely at Kuroda. She then disappears from sight as she falls. Kuroda walks to the edge and peers down on the water far below. The rain hitting the surface of the water reminds the viewer of the rain pictured in the title shot.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
A psychological thriller with enough plot twists to twirl a hula hoop. You can see why Nakata was drawn to the challenge of this story. No explicit violence. One flashback of an attempted knife attack gone awry. No sex or nudity, but some steamy undercurrents. This is one of those movies where an inexplicable law of physics requires that anyone removing clothing will be facing opposite the camera. This was a fun film, in part because of the Memento-like time-line manipulation, and in part because this is the skillful work of director Nakata Hideo.

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