Scrap Heaven

2005, Movie, NR, 117 mins

Review

SCRAP HEAVEN
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Sang-il Lee's anarchic drama is shot through with spasms of dark comedy, as the lives of three strangers intersect at the point of a gun.

Shingo Kasuya (Ryo Kase) spent five years as a Tokyo street cop before being transferred to administrative duty; he'd like to work in Homicide, but flubs his opportunity to impress gruff veteran detective Yabuta. Pretty pharmacist Saki Fujimura (Chiaki Kuriyama, KILL BILL VOL. 1's Gogo Yubari) is bored with her work, but not as bored as toilet-cleaner Tetsu Kazui (Jo Odagiri), whose punk style and attitude belie the stultifying sameness of his life. All three are on a late-night bus that suddenly veers off route, hijacked by a drunken, sweating salaryman with a gun. Before he commits suicide, he's shot Tetsu and humiliated Saki, who loses her glass eye in the chaos and is reduced to scrambling for it on the floor, empty socket gaping. Shingo disgraces himself by doing nothing.

Three months later, Shingo is persona non grata: His fellow cops covered up his cowardice to save face for the department, but he's going to spend the rest of his career pushing paper. Then chance intervenes: He crosses paths again with Tetsu and fast-talks him out of a sticky situation with a gang of subway hooligans. Both are haunted by the bus incident: It ripped the lids off their lives and they're repelled by what they saw. But while Shingo wallowed in self-pity, Tetsu came up with a plan to give his life meaning: He's going to set up shop as an avenger for hire, righting the petty wrongs that blight people's lives. Shingo joins him; they advertise on bathroom walls and start up their office in an abandoned public toilet, where clients pour out their woes from the adjoining stall. Shingo is instantly hooked on the rush of evening out the cosmic score. The first payback schemes are prankish, but they take on a frightening edge when Saki reenters their lives as a client/coconspirator. Deeply psychologically damaged even before her encounter with the suicidal gunman, she's been mixing up vials of nitroglycerine in her kitchen and dreams of making "everything go away."

Lee's quirky chronicle of youthful alienation takes a sharp turn into FIGHT CLUB (1999) territory when Tetsu embraces Saki's apocalyptic disdain for the emptiness of modern-day life. The film's shifts in tone are awkward, but the frustrated, despairing restlessness that drives its lost boys (and girl) is icily convincing. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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