“Chaos” (1999) – A.J. Hakari

The name of Hideo Nakata will be familiar to just about any admirer of Asian cinema. As the man behind the original Japanese versions of The Ring and Dark Water, Nakata was one of the key figures in kicking off the recent Asian horror boom in America. But the guy’s capable of making other types of films as well, for Chaos has not a single long-haired ghost or cursed videotape in sight. Instead, this leisurely-paced mystery packs in plot twists by the truckload, while keeping careful watch to make sure that each one of them makes sense in the end — and let me tell you, a thriller that actually bothers to make sure its shocks and surprises actually make sense is definitely a welcome sight.

On what seems to be just another ordinary day, businessman Komiyama (Ken Mitsuishi) goes out to a fancy restaurant with his lovely wife Saori (Miki Nakatani). She goes outside while he pays the bill, but when he emerges, she’s nowhere in sight. Komiyama thinks nothing of it, until he gets a call from a man who has kidnapped Saori and is demanding a nice little ransom. As Komiyama brings in the authorities, the plot thickens, proceeding to flash back and show things from the side of the kidnapper, a poor handyman named Kuroda (Masato Hagiwara). The film follows him from the early stages of the kidnapping to the moment the whole thing goes horribly awry — but, as the many different directions the story takes appear to indicate, nothing is as it seems, the true nature of the crime slowly unfolding before our very eyes.

Reviewing something like Chaos is extremely touchy, since part of the film’s charm is being caught off-guard by where the story takes you next. Things start off with what appears to be a cut-and-dry crime, but Nakata soon reveals this to be the first part in a grand puzzle, each piece delicately laid against one another so as to keep viewers on their toes. But instead of pulling plot twists out of its ass and throwing out an ending that’ll make you feel angry, stupid, or a combination of both, Chaos makes sure that you have a good time feeling bamboozled. The flick runs along on a messed-up chronology, and it often doubles back or jumps forward at the drop of a hat, putting you at unease and making you wondering exactly where you are on the timeline. Still, Chaos invites you to play detective rather than trot out enough condescending plot twists to make M. Night Shyamalan cringe, telling a story that works as both a challenging mystery and as commentary on human nature.

Just as with the plot, it’s difficult to even discuss the acting in Chaos, since the performances depend so much on how the characters transition from one set of behaviors to another. But let me say that for the most part, this transition is handled quite well by its primary players. Mitsuishi does well as the concerned husband who harbors a secret of his own, but here, the show is damn near pilfered by Nakatani, who handles her daunting character duties like a pro, emerging with a very multi-layered performance for her troubles. I have to say, though, that while Hagiwara’s turn isn’t all that bad, it’s the character’s evolution that comes across a little underwhelming. The viewer gets teases of Kuroda being a much deeper role than Nakata seems to want him to be, and in scenes where he gives into wild abandon, it would’ve helped to have a little emotional “oomph” to give him a boost. The flick’s most impressive aspect, however, is its visual sense; Nakata has obviously seen a few film noirs in his time, and he does a great job of blessing this story with a similar atmosphere.

The best way to take in Chaos is by knowing as little as possible. Don’t look at the back of the box, don’t read any reviews, and don’t even read the Internet Movie DataBase’s cast list, which gives away one of the flick’s prime spoilers. Is Chaos a fantastic film? Nah, it has its share of flaws, particularly the pacing’s tendency to drag one too many times. But Chaos is still a film of much tact and craftsmanship, so much so that you don’t even notice Nakata’s hands reaching to pull the rug out from under you.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

One Response to ““Chaos” (1999) – A.J. Hakari”

  1. PaPa Larry H Says:

    I must say that, after reading your review, I might even consider watching “CHAOS”. As I probably said in one of my pervious replies, I am not a big japanese movie fan. But, I am trying to expand my cinematic horizons. My goal as far as foreign films are concerned, is to watch 4 (four) of them this year. I just might make “CHAOS” one of the 4 (four), thanks to your most interesting review. Papa Larry H

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