28 September 2008 | CountZero313
hit-and-miss early Iwai hints at greater things to come
A detective looking for a rare variety of dragon fish signs up to try out a new information database. The salesman stresses that a 'pretty temp' in her twenties comes with the package to help you figure out its workings. Enter Poo, a brassy rough diamond who elbows her way into the detective's caseload. What she doesn't realise is that the fish is in the possession of assassin-in-waiting Tadanobu Asano.
That is about as much of the plot as can be gleaned from this patchy, lightweight effort from Iwai that pleases the eye more than anything else. Very much like Picnic, the film allows glimpses of the lush visual style that would become Iwai's forte, and clearly shows Asano as a star in ascendancy, without actually paying off on total in terms of emotional punch. There is a romance, but it is flat. There is a bad guy, but we never get to know anything about him. Interestingly, there are non-Japanese actors who are cringe-inducingly bad, sheer criminal in fact. Recently, with regard to films like Silk and Memoirs of a Geisha people complain about the orientalist perspective of Asians on cinema screens. It is rarely mentioned that such wooden, two-dimensional occidentalist projections of non-Japanese are fairly common in J-Cinema. Thankfully, Iwai sorted it all out to a mesmerising degree in Swallowtail, still the intercultural movie primus inter pares.
Like Picnic, Iwai fans charting his trajectory will enjoy seeing the rough edges that were smoothed out later (the jarring classical music, the OTT TV acting). If you are coming to Iwai for the first time, do not start here. Go to Love Letter first, then Swallowtail Butterfly. If you do not like either of those, you'll despise this. If LL and SW do it for you, come here to see the nascent musings of one of cinema's greatest living directors.