Mystery novelist Aki Akahori’s “Inspector Takabe” is like a Japanese “Maigret,” but her life is about to turn into a Mary Higgins Clark novel, except darker. A chance encounter with a seductive stranger leads to more intrigue than Akahori bargained for in Dave Boyle’s “Man from Reno.”
Although “Takabe” rules the Japanese best-seller lists, Akahori is uncomfortable with her success. Tired of her celebrity status, she deserts her publicity tour, taking refuge in San Francisco, where she once went to school. In her hotel, she meets a handsome Japanese tourist from Reno, or so she deduces. She did not have a tryst in mind, but she eventually yields to his charms.
However, just when things start heating up, he precipitously vanishes. Even more disconcerting are the total strangers who suddenly want to take a quick look-see in her room for who-knows-what.
Just north of town, Paul Del Moral, the sheriff of San Marco, is also searching for a Japanese man. In this case, it is the individual he accidentally hit during severe fog-in, who up and left the hospital in a suspiciously rash manner. Soon a dead body turns up in San Marco who seems to have some connection to the fellow Del Moral dubbed “Running Man.” Inevitably, Del Moral’s investigation will lead him to San Francisco and the increasingly uneasy Akahori.
“Reno” represents a quantum step up for Boyle, whose previous films, like “White on Rice,” have been largely classifiable as romantic comedies. His frequent collaborator Hiroshi Watanabe is also back in the fold, but this time around he plays a strictly serious supporting role.
Instead, Ayako Fujitani and veteran character actor Pepe Serna take star turns as Akahori and Del Moral, respectively. Expect to see more of them because they both make major statements with their smart, charismatic, yet understated performances.
As thrillers go, “Reno” (co-written by Boyle, Joel Clark, and Michael Lerman) has several fresh twists, and it nicely captures the between-worlds vibe of the expatriate lifestyle. Technically polished, Richard Wong’s evocatively noir cinematography also heightens the tension during several key scenes.
Murkier than one might expect, “Reno” is an effective, somewhat romantic suspense that never rushes to tip its hand. Yet, it is even more appealing to see such a film anchored by people who look like Akahori and Del Moral. Granted, Fujitani is a beautiful woman, but in a mature, cerebral manner. Likewise, Serna is wonderfully grizzled, in a confidence-inspiring way. They are terrific, carrying the film relay-style during their many solo scenes. Highly recommended, “Man from Reno” opens March 27 in New York at the Regal E-Walk.
‘Man From Reno’
Director: Dave Boyle
Starring: Ayako Fujitani, Pepe Serna, Kazuki Kitamura
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Release date: March 27
4.5 stars out of 5
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit JBSpins.blogspot.com