Mar 5, 2020

Diner (Mika Ninagawa, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Sometimes, in order to make our dreams come true, we have to take a detour and 'corresponding risks'. For Oba Kanako (doe-eyed Tina Tamashiro) who's often ridiculed for her name translating as 'stupid girl', a sudden change of life's direction leads her into a restaurant run by a seductive ex-assassin, Bombero (Tatsuya Fujiwara of the Battle Royale and Death Note fame), and reserved exclusively for the psychopathic yakuza. Super-demure, abandoned by everyone, and dressed by the waitress-fetishist code, she will have to rely on her own survival skills...

... and although she doesn't appear to possess any, Kanako proves to have a lot of pluck (and resourcefulness) in her, with Tamashiro's dramatic portrayal eliciting sympathy for the heroine. And it's no wonder she comes off as relatable, considering how (deliberately) cartoonish the antagonists are, save for the boss turning into a love interest Bombero, and Diner's first client Skin (Masataka Kubota) whose love for his late mother opens Kanako's compassionate heart. Oh, and there's a strawberry-eating CGI bulldog that may get under your skin!

However, it's neither the quirky, 'animesque' characters nor the crazy, suspension-of-disbelief-stretching story that keep us glued to the screen - it's Mika Ninagawa's eye-popping style that has Diner's menu loaded with most delicious (high calorie) treats. Amped up to eleven, her exuberant visuals are densely packed with all the colors of the rainbow whose vividness is accentuated by neon lighting, as well as with the incredible details in mouth-watering dishes and garnishes, eccentric costumes and eclectic set design incorporating a wide range of influences, from Japanese tradition to pop-art. Also varied are Ninagawa's cinematic references - frenetic energy of Takashi Miike, kabuki-like theatricality of Seijun Suzuki and unrestrained baroqueness of Dario Argento are smoothly amalgamated, with homages to Kobayashi, Woo and Wachowskis thrown in for good measure. And yet, the film is as fresh as the groceries in Bombero's kitchen or the flowers decorating the lurid interiors. Adding an extra oomph to it is a pulsating score providing the compromise between techno and classical music.

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