Dir: Shinji Higuchi Jap.2004. 128mins
Lorelei may have the typical elements of a submarine movie(exploding depth charges, steely-jawed captain), but is nonetheless a genrestandout. Produced by Fuji TV's Chihiro Kameyama - the Japanese JerryBruckheimer, who was also responsible for the megahit Bayside Shakedownfilms - Lorelei is the first Japanese film of its kind in nearly fivedecades. It is also another Kameyama hit, debuting at number one at theJapanese box office earlier this month, with a chart-topping $69,000 screenaverage in major urban markets.
Based on a best-sellingnovel by Harutoshi Fukui, the Y1.2b ($11.5m) Lorelei is blend ofhistorical fact and manga-esque fantasy that mark it as distinctively Japanese,while supplying Hollywood-style thrill ride effects. The result is anentertainment unlike anything else presently coming out of Asia, with moreinternational potential that any of Kameyama's previous efforts. His long-termambition is to not only win over the rapidly expanding Asian film fan baseabroad, but make a frontal assault on the multiplexes of America - and Loreleimay give him the wedge he needs. Unlike Wolfgang Petersen's grimly realistic DasBoot - another submarine feature told from inside a World War Two Axisvessel - Lorelei has the feel of a role-playing video game, with itscrew encountering a series of dangerous obstacles, from within and without, inorder to reach their goal. Appeal overseas is thus likely to be skewed towardsyounger, predominantly male audiences.
The starring sub, the I-507,is a gift from the dying Nazi Reich to the Japanese navy during the closingdays of World War II. It is equipped with imaging technology far in advance ofthe era's primitive sonar - and powered by a very unusual source.
The mission, assigned afterthe atomic bombing of Hiroshima, is to intercept US ships carrying more suchweapons to Tinian Island, the base for B-29 bombing runs to Japan. This, ofcourse, is a complete fiction, as is the man charged with the mission,Commander Masami (Yakusho) - a brilliant killer of enemy ships relieved of hiscommand when he opposed the navy's increasing reliance on suicide tactics. Nowhe is eager to redeem himself, but ignorant of the secrets the I-507 carries onboard.
Once at sea, Lieutenant Takasu(Ishiguro), the owlish technician in charge of the imaging system, refuses totell Masami what it is or how it works. Masami also discovers that two crewmembers belong to the mini-sub suicide corps. Meanwhile, the US Navy istracking the I-507 with more than usual interest. What, Masami wonders, isgoing on here'
Enough to say that a teenagegirl (Yu Kashi) is part of the master plan and that one of the mini-sub pilots(Satoshi Tsumabuki) becomes her protector - and something more.
The script by Satoshi Suzuki(Spellbound) verges on the over-obvious, but Koji Yakusho (Shall WeDance', Sayuri) keeps all afloat with a strong, low-key performancethat redeems even the clunkier lines. His Masami is a man sick of war, resignedto his certain defeat: he does the stern sub commander act to perfection, yetalso carries human affections and human flaws.
Director Shinji Higuchi isan effects specialist who helmed three Gamera instalments and the 2001 Godzillafilm. He and his team may not have had a Hollywood-sized budget, but theirI-507 is a swift, dark, muscular thing of beauty. Depth charge explosions, withcamera shakes by cinematographer Akira Sato and sonic booms courtesy ofSkywalker Sound, are appropriately stomach-churning and teeth-rattling.
Prod cos: Fuji TV, Toho, Kansai Telecasting Corporation, KingRecords
Int'l sales: Toho International
Jap dist: Toho
Exec prod: Chihiro Kameyama
Prods: Yoshishige Shimatani,Kazuyoshi Seki, Soichiro Chigusa, Toshimichi Otsuki
Scr: Satoshi Suzuki
Cine: Akira Sato
Main cast: Koji Yakusho, SatoshiTsumabuki, Tojiro Yanagida, Yu Kashi, Ken Ishiguro