A strange and often puzzling fantasy about the late
(1894-1965), Japan’s foremost horror/mystery scribe. The film is a bit
of a muddle overall, but also a wholly unique and provocative
The version of THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO currently in
circulation is in fact a refashioning of the original cut directed by
Rintaro Mayuzumi. The film’s producer Kazuyoshi Okuyama was dissatisfied
with Mayuzumi’s film, and so heavily recut and reshot it.
Okuyama’s additions included an animated sequence,
narration written by JACOB’S LADDER screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, a new
score and a surreal ambiance apparently not present in the Mayuzumi cut.
The two versions were released on the same day in Japan, with Okuyama’s
the more successful by far. It was the one distributed in the US--with
Okuyama receiving sole directorial credit.
The copyright date for RAMPO (the film’s original
title) is 1994, the 100th anniversary of Edogawa Rampo’s
birth. The film was loosely based on a novel by Rampo, and while it’s
impossible to guess how he might have felt about the results, it does
contain quite a few quintessentially Rampo-esque themes (perverse
sexuality, a bizarre murder, a seemingly unsolvable mystery).
Edogawa Rampo is readying his latest novel, a lurid
account of a man whose wife murders him by shutting him up in a chest,
for publication, only to learn that the Japanese government has decided
to censor it. Yet he reads a newspaper account of a woman suspected of
killing her husband in the manner described in his unpublished story.
Rampo goes to meet the woman and is startled that she looks exactly like
his imagined murderess. He’s terrified but also entranced by the woman,
and enters into a tentative affair with her.
At this point Rampo decides to let his fictional
alter-ego Akechi take over. The latter is a dashing detective who tracks
the woman by plane and parachutes out. He’s invited into the remote
castle where the woman lives with her husband, a transvestite with
extremely kinky proclivities.
But around this point Rampo’s alter-ego begins making
his own decisions independent of his creator. Akechi starts up his own
affair with the woman, much to the consternation of Rampo. The latter is
also nonplussed by the fact that the woman has a chest very much like
the one he imagined, and invites Akechi to shut himself inside…
The fact that this film was crafted by two separate
directors working independently shows in the oft-wobbly, meandering
narrative (particularly in the second half) and extremely slack pacing.
But it also gives the proceedings a uniqueness the film likely wouldn’t
contain were it directed by just one person.
THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO, with its consistently
unpredictable juxtaposition of the real and unreal, really isn’t like
anything else. Jumbled though it is, the film contains moments of real
apprehension and suspense, particularly in the final scenes, which come
complete with surprisingly proficient CGI effects. There’s also has a
great classical score by Akira Senju, performed by the Czech
But what precisely does it all mean? To be quite
honest I’m not entirely sure (the title character’s fear of intimacy,
perhaps?). It is, however, an imminently satisfying viewing experience
worthy of repeat viewings.
THE MYSTERY OF RAMPO (RAMPO)
Directors: Rintaro Mayuzumi, Kazuyoshi Okuyama
Producer: Yoshihisa Nakagawa
Screenplay: Kazuyoshi Okuyama, Yuhei Enoki
(Based on a story by Edogawa Rampo)
Cinematography: Yasushi Sasakibara
Editing: Akimasa Kawashima
Cast: Naoto Takenaka, Michiko Hada, Masahiro Motoki, Mikijiro Hira,
Shiro Sano, Ittoku Kishibe, Nekohachi Edoya, Jyunichi Takagi, Charlie
Yutani, Kirin Kiki, Julie Dreyfus