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The writer and college professor, Alexandre Fayard, researches and gives lectures about the gruesome literary work of the mysterious Japanese writer Shundei Oe, considered by him to be the master of manipulation. In his underground detective novels, evil always prevails and Shundei Oe has never allowed anyone to see his face. His only image available is a frightening picture on the back of his best-sellers. Alex travels to Kyoto to promote his successful detective story that follows the same style of the Shundei Oe but with a positive message instead. He meets with his publisher, Ken Honda, from the publishing house Hakubunkan. While in an interview in a TV show, Alex receives a phone call from Shundei Oe that advises him to return to Paris, and Alex believes it is a marketing strategy of Ken. Then Alex and Ken go to a tea house where he meets the Masochist geisha Tamao, and Alex has a crush on her. Tamao discloses to Alex that she knows Shundei Oe and his real name is Hichiro Irata; ...Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
It's all been done before, but what the hell, it's done professionally
Aside from Reversal of Fortune and Single White Female, Barbet Schroeder is probably best known for the two documentaries he made about two controversial figures like Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and French lawyer Jacques Vergès, aka Terror's Advocate. His latest fiction work, Inju, continues in that direction by dealing with another mysterious, possibly evil man.
The man in question is Shundei Oe, a reclusive Japanese writer who has never let anyone see his face, and unlike, say, Terrence Malick, he doesn't even allow his picture to circulate: the only clue readers have as to what he looks like is a disturbing self-portrait (think David Carradine in Kill Bill with a skin disease) he puts on the back cover of his novels, morbid thrillers where evil always prevails. Oe is the subject of the studies of Alex Fayard (Benoit Magimel), a French college lecturer who believes the atrocities in those books reflect the author's own deranged fantasies. When Fayard goes to Kyoto to promote a book of his own, an Oe-style tale minus the sombre ending, he starts having unsettling dreams and receives a menacing phone call during an interview. On top of that, he meets a geisha named Tamao (Minamoto Lika), who claims to be stalked by her former lover: Shundei Oe.
That's the premise: the rest of the film is a succession of murders, mysteries and twists, all delivered following the blueprint set by The Usual Suspects and exploited to the point of self-parody by the Saw franchise. These parallels aren't just predictable, they're downright unavoidable, since Schroeder's blatant intent is to make Shundei Oe a cinematic icon in the same league as Keyser Soze and Jigsaw (the latter is more of a genre icon, but that's beside the point). That this doesn't happen is due to the director mimicking the behavior of the film's protagonist: just like Alex imitates Oe without adding anything personal, Schroeder sets out to be a new Bryan Singer while being handed a ridiculously thin script and a twist ending that some people (most, actually) will find more obvious than the final revelation of The Village.
And yet, despite that, Inju isn't god-awful or even boring. How come? Because Schroeder most likely knew the plot wasn't that strong and put all his energy into the creation of a memorable, perverse atmosphere, and he succeeds: the gloomy mood is adequately complemented by sly visual nods to Cronenberg and Takashi Miike, most notably the weird sexuality that is present in either's body of work. There is nothing too explicit, but what is there is suggestive enough to wonder: what if Schroeder had directed Basic Instinct 2? As for the acting, there is nothing special to write home about, but Magimel deserves some back-slapping for being a better actor here than he was in the abysmal Crimson Rivers 2 (still nowhere near the heights he reached in The Piano Teacher, though).
And then there's the movie's major selling point, one of the best opening sequences in the genre's history: a Tarantino-inspired film-within-the-film that sums up Inju's unconventional charm in ten minutes. The overall picture isn't a masterpiece, that's for sure, but that beginning is worth the ticket price regardless.
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