Japan Cuts 2013 Review: I'M FLASH!, A Visually and Sonically Stylish Tale of Gangsters and Religious Cultists
Religious cultists, yakuza hitmen, a lovely bar pickup, and a speeding motorcyclist collide, quite literally, in the genre oddity that is I'M FLASH!, the latest from iconoclastic director Toyoda Toshiaki (9 Souls, The Hanging Garden). This time, Toyoda jettisons the moody experimentalism of his previous two features The Blood of Rebirth and Monster's Club to create a film that hearkens back to the wilder style of his earliest work. The title may indeed be a very appropriate one, in the sense that it flashes by us with an excess of visual style at the expense of truly lasting substance, despite the religious and philosophical-sounding talk that is spoken throughout. Nevertheless, I'M FLASH! often dazzles with the audaciousness of its go-for-broke mishmash of genre-movie elements and in the end is quite an entertaining divertissement.
After a brief introduction to many of the film's characters, a central figure emerges in Master Rui (Fujiwara Tatsuya), a young, handsome, charismatic celebrity cult leader of a religious sect called "Life Is Beautiful," which proposes death as the ultimate salvation. His mother (Okusu Michiyo) and sister (Harada Mayu) maintain rigid control of the cult as a profitable business venture. Rui himself, despite the serene, sincere guru-like image he presents to the public, actually is quite cynical about the church - "If you want to make a lot of money, nothing beats religion," he says at one point - and mostly uses it as a way to pick up women. Rui's penchant for womanizing gets him into major trouble one night when he picks up Rumi (Mizuhara Kiko), a young woman he meets in a bar, drives drunk in a fancy sports car, kills a motorcyclist (Emoto Tasuku), and seriously hurts Rumi, who falls into a deep coma following the accident.
Police - apparently paid off by the cult - never get involved, and Rumi hides out in the cult's palatial mansion by the beach in Okinawa, praying at a shrine in front of his father's skull, and going spear-fishing. Rui's chief assistant (Itao Itsuji), hires three yakuza-type bodyguards (Matsuda Ryuhei, Nagayama Kento, Nakano Shigeru) to protect Rui from anticipated attempts on his life. These three hitmen also emerge as colorful character types - the cool killer (Matsuda), the grizzled veteran (Nakano), and the young hothead thug (Nagayama), whose interactions are often quite funny.
As events unfold in the present, flashbacks of Rui and Rumi's fateful night are interspersed throughout, revealing Rumi's hidden agenda for meeting the guru, as well as other pertinent details. Rui's expressed wish to dissolve the church leads to a major twist that culminates in a violent denouement.
I'M FLASH! is ultimately as unclassifiable as Toyoda's recent works, even though it is more accessible and speeds by at a much breezier pace. It's perhaps a bit too breezy, impressing much more with its visuals, sound and production design, than any of its thematic ideas. Still, Toyoda has created a feast for the eyes and ears, its Okinawa locations and interior design looking very handsome on the screen. Music is a major element of Toyoda's films, and his latest is no exception; the instrumental rock score, performed by an all-star ensemble put together specifically for this film, adeptly creates an atmospheric backdrop to the action on display.
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