It was another night in the balcony of the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema as the Toronto After Dark Film Festival entered it’s 7th of 9 evenings of screenings. Wednesday night was dubbed Sushi night. Two films with Sushi in the title. I was unable to stick around for the second film, Dead Shushi, an over-the-top gorefest that involved killer sushi taking it the humans in a big spectacle of death. But I as in attendance for the first film of the night, Sushi Girl. Falling under the theme of crime noir and sporting a cast that could be described as genre royalty, it’s safe to say that this was one of the most anticipated films of the festival. The crowd was large and energetic. I myself was very much looking forward to this film. I’m not the hugest horror fan but when it comes to stylized crime dramas, I can devour them all night and still come back for seconds. Although this film has been talked about for the better part of the last year and a half between genre fans, I was able to avoid all hype and spoilers and come in to this screening clean of anything that might give away what I was about to see. Thankfully, what I was about to see turned out to be well worth it.
The easiest way to sum of the plot would be to say, “It’s like Reservoir Dogs, but instead of the crew meeting up an hour after the heist went wrong, they meet up six years later to point fingers and get to the bottom of where their missing diamonds went to.” And some of these cats are way more sadistic than Mr. Blonde ever was. The film stars Tony Todd of Candyman fame as a the leader of this group of thieves. He’s designed the reunion to take place at an old, rundown sushi restaurant and invited all the players from the event: Francis (James Duval), Crow (Mark Hamill), Max (Andy Mackenzie) and Fish, played by Noah Hathaway who we haven’t really seen since the eighties when he played Atreyu in The NeverEnding Story. Fish just got out of prison after spending the last half-decade doing time for this heist gone wrong. Over the course of the night, these criminals go over the events of that fateful robbery and try to figure it all out as they dine on sushi, which is served on the only other person in the room with them, the sushi girl. With cameo appearances by Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, and Danny Trejo (sporting his signature weapon of choice), this film lays the genre on thick for a story that’s shades of Tarantino with it’s delivery.
One room dramas are an incredibly difficult feat to pull off. With a lack of scenery to distract your audience, you are dealing with a slow paced film that lives and dies by the performances of whoever you put in that room. Thankfully, there is a heightened tension due to the plot but the characters are key. You need people who can play with this tension. In situations like these, it doesn’t hurt to have a group of genre actors on hand to chew the dialogue you’ve given them like their dining on a decadent feast. Todd of course looms over the event like a predator waiting to pounce on his prey. His size and body language make him the most imposing figure in the film, brought more to the forefront by his execution of dialogue. He is a master of subtle and not so-subtle creepiness. Andy Mackenzie is a close second in the “imposing” department as Max. Tall and hairy with an almost animal-like sense to him, he’s an unpredictable variable throughout the film. You don’t know when he’s going to snap and he plays this coiled spring performance well. Hathaway does his best to be a sympathetic victim type. He looks lost for most of the film but that works for his character. A babe in the woods who although he’s just wrapped up doing hard time, seems like the most fragile of the crew. Mark Hamill is by far the most entertaining of the bunch. He’s like a sociopathic ring master who devilishly relishes the pain of others and is quick with a clever quip designed to get a rise out of his dining companions. Hamill chooses to speak in a squeaky, effeminate pitch that is annoying at first but as the character begins to show more of his psychotic tendencies, seems like the perfect voice for Crow. His devilish laughter and great chemistry with both Todd and Mackenzie make him the most interesting performer to watch in this piece. Another fantastic performance is delivered by one least likely: The Sushi Girl herself. Played by Courtney Palm, the Sushi Girl is our window into the picture and tells us a great deal by her reactions alone. It’s also interesting to see how she goes from being a piece of set dressing to an actual character by film’s end. With a story that is interesting but at times predictable, the movie is elevated by these solid performances that show that you don’t need big effects and tons of money to tell a compelling story. You just need a few interesting characters…..and a little bit of bloodshed.
Sushi Girl is an enjoyable crime drama with the right mix of comedy and violence. The film is slated for a limited U.S. theatrical release at the beginning of January and will be available on DVD and Bluray on February 19th. It will also be available on Ultra-Video On Demand on November 27th. I recommend this film to anyone who likes interesting characters and crime noir. If you enjoy watching Tony Todd be a bad-ass, Mark Hamill be a slimey bastard and Sonny Chiba prepare sushi (I forgot to mention that Chiba also makes a cameo appearance), than this film is for you. Be sure to watch it on Demand this Fall or catch it when it’s released this Winter.
For more info on Sushi Girl, check out their website.
To check the schedule for the rest of film screening, go to torontoafterdark.com.
And if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!
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