Dir: Katsuyuki Motohiro. Jap. 2005. 127mins

Katsuyuki Motohiro's Negotiatoris an action spin-off from his major hits Bayside Shakedown (1998) and BaysideShakedown 2 (2003), the latter of which set a record $162m at home for aJapanese live-action film. But this time, the bumptious detective of before(who faced off against the entire Tokyo police bureaucracy), is replaced bycriminal negotiator Masayoshi Mashita (Yusuke Santa Maria), whose occupation isabout as common in Japan as kosher butcher.

Already at one remove fromJapanese reality, he can more easily serve as the linchpin of averging-on-fantasy action movie, without overly straining audience credibility.Think a Japanese version of Spider Man - a nice-but-nerdy guy with specialoccupational skills.

As with the Baysidefilms, Negotiator's appeal lies mainly at home (it opens there on May 7),though Asian film fans, as well as ordinary action buffs, will find its take onfamiliar genre tropes often ingenious, rarely imitative. The film also has an appealinglyhuman and lightly comic side that lifts it above the genre run. This homage toold Hollywood action flicks ends up surpassing more than a few of them - andthe world beyond Japan just might take notice.

That said, while Mashitadeals with a terrorist who threatens the Tokyo subway system, the film offerslittle in the way of deadly catastrophe: those looking for a high body countwill be disappointed.

On Christmas Eve, 2004 anexperimental subway train, the Kumo E4-600, starts barrelling through tunnelsand past platforms, as astonished commuters scramble out of the way. Though wesee only the hands of its operator, we know that he is up to no good - and hasfigured out how to make the subway system his playground. The Kumo E4-600 is asleek, glowing machine that seems to have an evil mind of its own, like thesemi truck in Steven Spielberg's Duel.

Then the terrorist in chargemakes an unusual request - he wishes to speak with Mashita - and "ridetogether on the subway" with him.

Naturally, Mashita dropswhat he is doing - getting ready for a heavy date with the woman he hopes tomarry - and hurries to establish contact with the terrorist. This requires ateam of technicians, with gear that analyses everything from voice patterns tophone locations.

They ensconce themselves inthe cavernous control room of the Tokyo Transportation Railway (TTR), eventhough the testy supervisor, Kataoka (Jun Kunimura), says he has no need forMashita's services. An eager-to-please PR flack (Masanori Ishii), tries to smooththings over - but it is Mashita who must prove himself by probing theterrorist's motives, while coordinating with the subway people inside and thecops outside. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on not only the bombs theterrorist has set, but Mashita's big date.

Katsuyuki Motohiro buildsold-school-Hollywood pace and tension, while fleshing out characters andrelationships in typically Japanese ways. Mashita, we see, is less aHollywood-like superhero, striding (or flying) off on his lonesome, more aglorified salaryman, threading his way through an intricate web of humanrelationships. The real drama lies in his building a productive wa (harmony)with his colleagues - and the terrorist.

As in the Baysidefilms, the basic story is simple, but crowded with characters and packed withvarious sorts of geeky info. In its course, we learn much about both theoperation of the Tokyo subway system and the Hollywood action movies the fanboyvillain has used as the basis of his fiendish scheme. The film itself iscrammed with references to Hollywood films, from Clint Eastwood's TheGauntlet to Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much - and allthe terror-in-the-subway pics in between.

Prod cos: Fuji TV, Robot, Toho, SkyPerfect! WT
Int'l sales:
Pony Canyon
Jap dist:
Exec prod:
Chihiro Kameyama
Hirotsugu Usui, ToruHoribe, Chikahiro Ando
Masashi Sogo
Akira Sakou
Main cast:
Yusuke Santa Maria,Jun Kunimura, Susumu Terajima, Kotaro Koizumi, Masanori Ishii