Writer: Benio Saeki
Cast: Tak ∴, Akio Ôtsuka, Yura Kondo
Running time: 100mins
What’s the story: Former special forces soldier Toshiro (Tak ∴) works in a small convenience store in rural Japan, caring for the orphaned Sachi (Kondo). But, dangerous enemies from his past, led by the mysterious Phantom (Ôtsuka), force him to settle old scores.
What’s the verdict: With action films arriving faster and thicker than kicks from The Raid’s Iko Uwais in a particularly foul mood, they had better come strapped with a good USP.
Re:Born’s is the close-quarter knife-fighting style practiced by both hero Toshiro and his most lethal opponents. Developed by the film’s combat coordinator Yoshitaka Inagawa and referred to as “Zero Range Combat” by director Shimomura, it’s blink-and-your-dead bloodletting packing a no-nonsense elegance all its own.
ZRC is receiving all the attention in the reviews, but Re:Born’s second strong point is the supernatural atmosphere Shimomura generates in the first fifty-minutes. Aping the muted eeriness of classic J-horror, Re:Born begins as John Wick hula-hooping with Ring.
With Ghost being Toshiro’s one-time code name, electronic goods cutting out when bad guys are nearby and one shoot-out being almost unremarked upon by passers-by, writer Saeki seems to have been aiming for uncanny ambiguity.
All of which is fitting for a film led by Tak ∴ (formerly known as Tak Sakaguchi), who debuted in the 2001 cult zombie/action flick Versus.
This first section sketches in enough character detail to make you care if Toshiro and Sachi make the end credits. And with throat-gouging mayhem liberally dispensed to both male and female operatives, there is no guarantee a cute moppet is going to make the closing credits.
But, Re:Born is a film of two halves. The latter fifty minutes become a non-stop barrage of close-quarter filleting and fisticuffs as Toshiro and his sidekicks storm Phantom’s remote hideout. Although for us the action stand-outs (that street shoot-out and an inventive smackdown in a phone box) occur in the opening half.
A touch of horror is also retained in Toshiro’s twitchy, twisty fighting style echoing Sadako’s unnerving genuflections.
Ultimately, Re:Born is like an adaptation of some mad manga you’ve not yet come across. And, although the charismatic Tak ∴ is reportedly retiring, we wouldn’t rip the throat out of the idea of a sequel.