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If you're familiar with modern Japanese cinema, you'll be forgiven if you assume Midnight Eagle is another over-the-top horror flick, ala stories like Audition or The Ring. In the case of this Izuru Narushima-directed film adaptation of the apocalyptic novel by acclaimed writer Tetsuo Takashima (the film's tagline declares "only 48 hours till the end of Japan"), however, that assumption would be completely invalid.
Although disturbing ghost stories and psychologically-warped horror have become the taste du jour of American audiences seeking imported scripts, the heads of Japanese film studios are of course capable of delivering much more. Witness the whimsical genius of Kurosawa or Takashi Kitano's gritty crime thrillers, to cite a few obvious examples of the nation's screenwork. While Japan's non-Hollywood storylines have been contaminating the general direction of American films for the past several years, Narushima's Midnight Eagle might be the most visibly Hollywood-influenced Japanese film to make it back to North American markets. Taking its cues from American blockbuster mavens Jerry Bruckheimer and Roland Emmerich, Narushima's work is a second-rate interpretation of those studio icons' action exploits that completely misfires and is pretty much completely unnecessary.
According to an onscreen narrative, the film begins in "somewhere in the Middle East," where a war photographer (clearly not in Iraq despite the rubble and bomb blasts surrounding him…) named Nishizaki wakes up from what was presumably a bomb blast. Dazed, Nishizaki attempts to befriend a child nearby, only to watch the boy's physical being obliteration by an incoming mortar round. Fast-forward three years and the lens again rejoins Nishizaki, now up in the northern Japanese Alps, drinking from a flask inside a tent. When a strange object suddenly hurtles through the mountain sky, the story expands as the Japanese air force scrambles aircraft in an attempt to identify what has violated their airspace. The offending metallic hunk turns out to have been a disabled American B5 bomber, ditched in the mountains with a payload of nuclear weapons.
The stakes thoroughly raised by all the implications unsecured nuclear materials present, the shit is on. Journalists struggle to investigate a story that goes all the way to the top (!!), while the military hunts for what is essentially a ticking time bomb that could devastate the entire nation of Japan. The sit is on, indeed, and after characters are shot conversations like this happen: "I'm fine." "Like hell, you are." Elsewhere, Narushima's characters describe disenchanted journalists like this: "The man who took those pictures died a long time ago." And of course heroes sacrifice themselves for the safety of their nation.
Do the regular waves of over-produced and under-acted American movies not provide enough of this silliness? One of the pleasures of foreign films making their way into the domestic market is their tendency to avoid such tritely American clichés. Midnight Eagle, on the other hand, tenderly embraces them while watching its best friend die one day before retirement. The agony! The irony! The only thing saving Midnight Eagle is the lyrical, almost poetic quality in Narushima's pacing and the photography of the film, something that is sorely lacking from even the most artistically well-meaning of its American counterparts. But ultimately it is its reliance on familiar clichés that makes this action movie-meets-political thriller-meets drama so underwhelming. SEE ALSO: www.midnighteagle.jp
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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