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Waiting in the Dark

Wilson Chen and Rene Tanaka in Waiting in the Dark.
  AKA: Kurai tokoro de machiawase
Year: 2006  
Director: Daisuke Tengan  
  Writer: Daisuke Tengan
  Cast: Rena Tanaka, Wilson Chen, Haruka Igawa, Koichi Sato, Mao Miyaji, Shiro Sano, Fumina Hara, Ittoku Kishibe
  The Skinny: A murder suspect takes refuge in a blind woman's home in this quasi-romance, quasi-mystery from Daisuke Tengan, son of legendary Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura. Likeable stars and a gradually-developing mystery add the requisite tension and intrigue to an otherwise slow-moving, ponderous film.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Considering both its English title and its general premise, Daisuke Tengan's Waiting in the Dark instantly recalls Frederick Knott's 1966 play, Wait Until Dark, which itself was made into a film the following year by director Terence Young and featured Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin in starring roles. Both the original play and the subsequent film centered on a blind woman being terrorized by criminals, but 2006's Waiting in the Dark - based on the Japanese novel singularly-named Otsuichi - takes a decidedly different approach to a vaguely similar situation. Namely, what if the "criminal" became a guardian angel for the unsuspecting blind girl?
     Rena Tanaka stars as Michiru, a young woman recently stricken blind in a traffic accident. If that weren't bad enough, just as Michiru is coming to grips with her disability, another unexpected tragedy strikes: her beloved father dies. Adamant that she can take care of herself, she tells her friends and relatives at the funeral that she will remain in the house and live her life normally without any assistance. Although Michiru seems to do well on her own, her life is one of quiet solitude interrupted only sporadically by the occasional visit by a good friend.
     The second major character in the film is Akihiro, a half-Japanese, half-Chinese blue-collar worker played by Taiwanese actor Wilson Chen Bo-Lin. Akihiro is a well-meaning loner fresh from China, but he has some serious trouble adjusting to life in Japan. The main problem Akihiro faces is a less-than-ideal work environment, as he has to endure both the racist jibes of his coworkers and their general attempts to sabotage his work. The main culprit is Toshio (Koichi Sato), an older Japanese worker who torments Akihiro mercilessly each day. That kind of abuse is enough to drive anyone to extreme measures, and in Akihiro's case, such a statement may have proven all too true.
     The previously separate lives of Michiru and Akihiro intertwine when the belligerent Toshio finds himself on the wrong side of an oncoming train. The bloody death occurs at a train station near Michiru's place, and Akihiro is apparently the only person at the scene of the crime. Chased by a train station employee, a panicked Akihiro flees to Michiru's house, rings her doorbell, and sneaks inside, escaping her notice. Now a prime suspect in what the police are calling a deliberate murder, Akihiro has no choice but to hole up in Michiru's home until he can figure out his next move. He spends most of his days staring out the window, while at night, he scrounges around the kitchen looking for food. After a few days, Michiru begins to sense his presence...with some very interesting consequences.
     Just by the very nature in which the above relationship plays out, Waiting in the Dark may put some viewers to sleep, as the film is a bit slow-paced and quiet. Of course, those two qualities are in some ways required by the plot since a) Akihiro must keep absolutely silent when he's in Michiru's presence to avoid detection and 2) there's absolutely no reason for Michiru to say anything since she has no idea he's around. Despite these constraints on the narrative, this otherwise sleepy film is enlivened considerably by both its clever narrative style and a thriller-style plot twist that may seem tacked on - at least tonally - but is actually backed up by little touches that occur throughout the film.
     Narrative-wise, Waiting in the Dark is broken into three overlapping segments, one detailing Michiru's life, the second focusing more on Akihiro, while the third deals with the final stage of their relationship, as Michiru becomes aware of his presence. What results is a film that is part-romance and part-thriller, although a rather sedate one at that. This thriller aspect is evident in the final portions of Waiting in the Dark, which introduces an element of mystery into what initially seems like a foregone conclusion. I won't spoil the events that occur in this later passage of the film, but what is perhaps most interesting here is how the filmmakers choose to peel back the layers of Akihiro's character, initially portraying him as an innocent victim of his coworkers' abuse, only to complicate that situation slightly, a move that is somewhat reminiscent of Yasuo Inoe's decidedly more violent rumination on bullying, The Neighbor No. Thirteen.
     Perhaps the most unsettling or, at the very least, the most unbelievable aspect of Waiting in the Dark is how easily Michiru accepts an otherwise creepy situation. Sure, WE know that Akihiro seems like a good guy, but does Michiru? The fact that Michiru would be so quickly inclined to accept that a man is hiding in her house in such a matter-of-fact, positive manner stretches the limits of plausibility. Certainly, the general likeability of both actors helps one to suspend disbelief, but leaving that part of the story aside, there's still a last act of "instant forgiveness" between Michiru and another character that seems absolutely ludicrous considering the events that precede it. Perhaps acknowledging any of this would have caused the film to fall apart, but one can't help but question how a real person would react to these two events.
     Those complaints aside, both Rena Tanaka and Wilson Chen do a fine job carrying the movie over its occasional dead spots. Tanaka is convincing as a blind woman, although her character's storyline is somewhat less gripping than that of her co-star's. At the risk of sounding dismissive, Waiting in the Dark is essentially all about "pretty people with problems" finding some measure of solace in each other's company. The problem here is that any resolution that occurs between the two - both romantically or philosophically - seems more indebted to the photogenic qualities of Tanaka and Chen than anything that actually happens in the film. It's more like plot/star power momentum at work here, not actual character development. Even so, Waiting in the Dark makes for an intriguing viewing experience, as its preference for revealing bits of information in a nonlinear fashion over the course of the film keeps one glued to the screen. At the end of the day, these factors, not to mention the likeable, quietly brooding performances delivered by both Rena Tanaka and Wilson Chen make Waiting in the Dark worth at least a look. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)
Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Geneon Home Entertainment
Two-Disc Premium Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Japanese Subtitles
Making Of Featurettes, Interviews, Press Conference, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Music Video
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen