Tak Sakaguchi burst onto the scene in 2000 with Versus, a small-scale action/sci-fi film that set him loose in a forest to kick ass, and the next several years saw him taking on a mix of features that often entertained without ever recapturing that same level of success. If there’s any justice in the world though his new film, the equally small but even more impressive Re: Born, will catapult him back onto the action film stage.
The story is both simple and convoluted, but the action is thrilling enough to forgive both. Toshiro (Tak) was once a legendary special ops soldier nicknamed “Ghost” who was known for being the final word on the battlefield. His ability to penetrate enemy defenses, take out his targets, and possibly even dodge bullets was the stuff of whispered rumors, but one day he chose to leave it all behind.
His new life involves raising an adopted daughter, Sachi (Yura Kondo), and running a small convenient store in a quiet little town, but the old comes calling when remnants of the team he left behind come looking for closure.
Director Yuji Shimomura previously directed Tak in 2005’s Death Trance, but Re: Born is the film that sees both talents at the top of their game. Emotional range has never quite been Tak’s strong suit, but its absence doesn’t hurt his charisma. He has a quiet mystery about him making the occasional slight smile during physical interactions that much more appealing. He’s also one hell of a fighter, and while his character’s execution of a hundred or so enemies seems ridiculous on the page he makes it believable up on the screen. Shimomura’s camera captures the action well in a mix of close-ups and wide shots while avoiding excessively choppy editing.
The pair worked alongside fight choreographer Yoshitaka Inagawa to craft a style action fans have never seen, and the result is something called Zero Range Combat. It’s a real close quarters fighting technique, often involving small blades, that uses speed and proximity to down opponents with minimal time and effort. It’s an absolute thrill to watch, and while you’d think a thirty minute sequence of our heroes climbing a hill and dispatching bad guys would grow tedious you’d be wrong. Tak works his way through the enemy adding a wild roll to his shoulders (called “the wave”) before each clash.
The fight scenes are numerous and never fail to entertain and impress, but at 100 minutes the film also spends time on plot and character, and it’s there where things grow less effective. What should be a simple story — ex-soldier drawn back into the fight — is made overly convoluted with side characters, relationships, and a backstory that doesn’t quite hold together. Worse, some of these scenes threaten to drag the film’s energy down. Threaten to… but one Tak attack later and those concerns are squashed and stabbed into oblivion.
There are great action films that pair the kicks, stabbings, and neck snaps with engaging stories and characters, and there are forgettable ones that can’t manage to do either half well. Re: Born sits somewhere in the middle but leans towards greatness on the strength of its action alone. Tak deserves to be an action star (again), and with any luck we’ll be seeing more of him and “the wave” in the near future.
Related Topics: Fantastic Fest