One of the best things about Japanese cinema is their explorations of existentialism and memories. Regardless of what genre it is like horror or comedy, Japanese filmmakers always tend to mine such fantastic filmmaking potential from such a theme. In the case of Sayaka Kai’s feature-length debut, Red Snow, those themes are the heart of the mystery thriller; as it goes through the characters, their upbringings and their past memories in the cruel, nihilistic world they live in.
Red Snow opens with a point-of-view shot of a young boy running through the snow with a sense of foreboding about it. Soon, we learn that scene is from the day that boy went missing, and his older brother Kazuki (Masatoshi Nagase) has always blamed himself for it. Thirty-years later, an investigative reporter Shogo (Arata Iura) jumps into the task of examining the disappearance and encounters Sayuri (Nahana), the daughter of the suspect in the kidnapping.
One character in the film spouts out “We are all pieces in a puzzle.” Funnily enough, that line of dialogue conveys the quality of the storytelling accurately. Director Kai shows all the pieces of the story, but rarely manages to fit them all together to make a compelling whole. Too much of “what” and not enough of “why”.
The synopsis may sound simple enough and Kai tries to enliven up the storytelling by resorting to flashbacks and flashforwards; dream sequences and the use of the unreliable narrator (revealing whom would be a spoiler). While Kai’s intentions for her storytelling is noble and fits with the conceit of memories, the final result is a convoluted and quite sloppy mess. An example of jarring editing involve characters talking about fire and how it appears in the night; cutting to a montage of sex scenes.
Kai also tends to withhold plot exposition (relying more on atmospherics and character interactions) to the point that when scenes of suspense and tension occur, it feels contrived. It also does not help that the characters are not really worth sympathizing with, since we hear more about their suffering rather than their characterizations.
On the positive side, the acting from the three leads Nagase, Iura and Nahana are all exemplary and fit into Kai’s vision very well. They all convey the inner demons of their characters convincingly and are never afraid to make them reprehensible or deranged. The differing stories and contrasting character motivations between Nagase and Nahana’s characters are conveyed convincingly and do pay off in a cathartic fashion.
The stellar production values also add to the atmosphere, as Kai’s implementation of style pays off with many memorable images; most notably the opening scene, which is shot dialogue-free in one take; thanks to Futa Takagi’s striking cinematography and the distinctive sound design.
Although the central mystery is a disappointment due to haphazard storytelling and jarring editing, Red Snow is still a good calling card for director Sayaka Kai due to her stylish approach and her way of getting good performances out of her actors.
Cast: Masatoshi Nagase, Arata Iura, Nahana
Director: Sayaka Kai
Screenwriters: Sayaka Kai