First-time (according to the imdb, anyway) director Kenji Uchida's Stranger of Mine (2005) is a light comedy, but not the sort that goes for frequent gut-busting gags. It is a bit of a romance, only no one really gets the girl. It is a bit of a crime film, though all the cons are foiled and the gangsters don't really get violent. So, its got a little bit of this and that, so I'll go with the ‟light film‟ tag.
The hook, the gimmick, of Stranger of Mine is that the story follows five characters over the course of one night, their stories intertwining, revealing little surprises and giving new insight into what you've seen before. For instance, in one story we see two characters having a long chat in a bedroom. Much later in a another characters segment, the bedroom scene is repeated from the new characters point of view- hiding underneath the bed.
We begin with the meeting of two very sad sack souls, Maki (Reika Kirishima) and Miyata (Yasuhi Nakamura). Maki has just suddenly left her fiancee because she suspects him of cheating. She is out on the street, bags in hand, with nowhere to go, so she sits in a restaurant and tries to stifle her tears. Businessman Miyata, on the other hand, is still smarting from his live-in girlfriend leaving him right after they had moved in together in an apartment he spent all his savings to acquire.
The two meet in the restaurant where Maki has gone just to be off the street. Miyata is there at the request of his detective friend Kanda (So Yamanaka), who tries to give his lovelorn buddy advice about moving on, invites Maki over to their table, and then disappears, leaving the two together to get acquainted, eventually leading to an evening where the two bond, Miyata offers her a place to stay in his spare room, and Maki confronts Miyata's old girlfriend Ayumi (Yuka Itaya), who comes by the apartment to collect some things.
Okay, that is just the first story, which takes up about a third of the films running time. I actually didn't like it too much. Kinda' cute and harmless, but the kind of losers finding each other, out of the blue love story that just isn't my personal taste. For instance, they try to make Maki quirky and a bit daffy, which just comes off as weird. Like, her reason for suspecting her boyfriend is cheating is that she finds a sole lipstick smeared cigarette butt in between his car seat. That alone is the impetence for her leaving a man she intends to marry. I once found a lemon drop under my car floor mat, but that doesn't mean I suspect Willy Wonka was once riding in the passenger seat.
Anyway, once their story is finished, the film moves on to Kanda, Ayumi, and finally a gangster named Asai (Kisuke Yamashita). Now, things get interesting, the stories all intermingle, and the film really begins to show its wit and invention. For instance, little throwaway bits, like the reasons behind why Kanda calls out of the blue and insists he and Miyata meet at the restaurant, yet Kanda shows up late, and then disappears. Each explanation reveals various twists and turns, circumstances you would not expect.
I'm not going to go into too many details because that really is the fun of the film. Suffice to say, there is a bag of cash, several double crosses and people who are not exactly as innocent or as bad as they appear to be. The result is a fun film, as I said at the start, light, with some comedy, some romance, some crime, and most of all, several pleasant surprises thanks to its interesting choice in storytelling.
The DVD: Panasia, an HK DVD distributor, REGION 3 ENCODED.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.85:1. Nothing much here. Now, the film takes place at night, so there is a tremendous amount of low light photography. So, one would think a DVD company would try to muster up a transfer with some decent contrast levels? Nope. This is one murky print. Muddy. Dark. Grainy. It makes putting a date on the film impossible because, based on the lackluster quality of the print, there is no way most viewers would assume it was a recent production.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional English or Chinese (Simplified or Traditional) subtitles. Basic, clean presentation. Not the kind of film that offers much in terms of audio acrobatics, so the simple 2.0 track is more than sufficient. Subtitles appeared relatively well-timed and free from too many glaring grammatical errors.
Extras: Theatrical Trailer.
Conclusion: A cute little film. Certainly charming and entertaining enough, but I wasn't struck with much desire to revisit it. The REG 3 disc is pretty basic and not of the highest quality, so this one leans towards a rental or a casual purchase at best.