A strange and often puzzling fantasy about the late Edogawa Rampo (1894-1965), Japan’s foremost horror/mystery scribe. The film is a bit of a muddle overall, but also a wholly unique and provocative experience.
The copyright date for RAMPO (the film’s original title) is 1994, the 100th anniversary of Edogawa Rampo’s birth. The film was loosely based on a novel by Rampo, and while it’s impossible to guess how he might have felt about the results, it does contain quite a few quintessentially Rampo-esque themes (perverse sexuality, a bizarre murder, a seemingly unsolvable mystery).
Edogawa Rampo is readying his latest novel, a lurid account of a man whose wife murders him by shutting him up in a chest, for publication, only to learn that the Japanese government has decided to censor it. Yet he reads a newspaper account of a woman suspected of killing her husband in the manner described in his unpublished story. Rampo goes to meet the woman and is startled that she looks exactly like his imagined murderess. He’s terrified but also entranced by the woman, and enters into a tentative affair with her.
At this point Rampo decides to let his fictional alter-ego Akechi take over. The latter is a dashing detective who tracks the woman by plane and parachutes out. He’s invited into the remote castle where the woman lives with her husband, a transvestite with extremely kinky proclivities.
But around this point Rampo’s alter-ego begins making his own decisions independent of his creator. Akechi starts up his own affair with the woman, much to the consternation of Rampo. The latter is also nonplussed by the fact that the woman has a chest very much like the one he imagined, and invites Akechi to shut himself inside…
The fact that this film was crafted by two separate directors working independently shows in the oft-wobbly, meandering narrative (particularly in the second half) and extremely slack pacing. But it also gives the proceedings a uniqueness the film likely wouldn’t contain were it directed by just one person.
THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO, with its consistently unpredictable juxtaposition of the real and unreal, really isn’t like anything else. Jumbled though it is, the film contains moments of real apprehension and suspense, particularly in the final scenes, which come complete with surprisingly proficient CGI effects. There’s also has a great classical score by Akira Senju, performed by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
But what precisely does it all mean? To be quite honest I’m not entirely sure (the title character’s fear of intimacy, perhaps?). It is, however, an imminently satisfying viewing experience worthy of repeat viewings.
THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO (RAMPO)
Directors: Rintaro Mayuzumi, Kazuyoshi Okuyama
Producer: Yoshihisa Nakagawa
Screenplay: Kazuyoshi Okuyama, Yuhei Enoki
(Based on a story by Edogawa Rampo)
Cinematography: Yasushi Sasakibara
Editing: Akimasa Kawashima
Cast: Naoto Takenaka, Michiko Hada, Masahiro Motoki, Mikijiro Hira, Shiro Sano, Ittoku Kishibe, Nekohachi Edoya, Jyunichi Takagi, Charlie Yutani, Kirin Kiki, Julie Dreyfus