An innocent man is accused of a heinous and high level crime and finds himself on the run from the authorities and from those who set him up. The sub-genre is fairly common with films ranging from The Fugitive to Tell No One, but the granddaddy behind them all is Alfred Hitchcock with films like North By Northwest and Frenzy. And now a new film can be added to the mix, and it’s already receiving praise and being labeled with the “Hitchcockian” superlative. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura‘s new film deserves the accolades, but I’d argue it does the rotund Brit one better… it’s Hitchcock with heart.
Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) arrives in town at the invite of an old college friend, but while he thought they were going on a fishing trip the friend has other plans. Morita parks his car alongside the Prime Minister’s parade route close enough to hear the blast and see the smoke when the politician is assassinated. It seems Morita was coerced into this and that Aoyagi is being framed for the crime. The police are after him almost immediately and Aoyagi is forced to run for his life with no clue why it’s all happening or who he can trust.
That issue of trust is at the core of the story here as Nakamura takes this traditional setup and almost immediately infuses it with personality, character, and emotion. Aoyagi’s quest for answers leads him to the other two members of his tight college quartet, one of whom is an ex-love who now has a family of her own. Haruko (Yuko Takeuchi) won’t accept the media story about Aoyagi’s guilt, and she’s compelled to help any way she can. And she’s not alone… also on Aoyagi’s side, inexplicably at first, is the friendly neighborhood serial killer named Kill-O. Why is he helping Aoyagi? Who’s the smiling government agent with the shotgun? And what does the Beatles song have to do with any of it?
The film’s remaining (and exquisitely arranged) details deserve to be experienced firsthand, as do the emotional reactions that Nakamura expertly pulls from the viewer throughout the movie. We’ve seen these “wrong man” movies before, and while Golden Slumber is as suspenseful as the best of them it also manages the rare success of truly making us feel and care for the innocent man. We see Aoyagi’s love for life and for others severely tested and his anguish becomes our own. But so do his successes. Friendship and faith in others are strong themes here, and they add an unexpected emotional weight to the mystery, action, and humor that combine to make up this intelligent, heartfelt, and intricately structured thriller.
One of the best films at last year’s Fantastic Fest was Nakamura’s incredible Fish Story. It’s a brilliantly executed tale of destiny and chance that weaves back and forth across time but manages to tie everything together in beautiful fashion by the end. His follow-up is different in several ways, but the two do have a few traits in common… Golden Slumber also features a song at the core of the story, it also jumps fluidly back and forth in time, and it also may just be the best film of the fest.
Of course, it’s only day two.