Hello there, little unknown gem of a movie. Where you came from, I don't know. Why nobody has ever noticed you, no idea. But you were a very pleasant surprise indeed, so please invite some of your friend next time you come around. Nishimura's Battling Angel seems to be largely ignored by the world, time to change that.
The Battling Angel is Nishimura's first film. He directed one more film (Waters) after this and has some special effects credits to his name, but that's about it. Information on him is scarce, any info on his films even more difficult to find. After watching Battling Angel I can understand why he lacks a vast audience, but his work is perfect genre fan material that simply deserves a wider audience.
The film is based on a novel but looks as if it originated from a manga. Especially from a storyline point of view Nishimura has some tough hurdles to take. In essence a police techno-thriller, the film makes a couple of strange jumps to keep its story going. If you want a streamlined and well-considered plot this might not be your thing, but luckily the film has plenty of alternative appeal.
The story is based around a young female cop and her partner. The two form a pretty good team and even engage romantically, but before it becomes anything more a rather serious case drifts the two apart. Up until that point it's a pretty basic police affair film, but then brains gets swapped, mysteries are revealed, past are brought back and twists follow each other in rapid succession. Not the most subtle film, but still pretty interesting if you dare to take it at face value.
The story might not be perfect but the film has enough expertise to survive on visual flair alone. Every frame is shot with precision, color handling is extremely pleasant and very atmospheric. From time to time the film even manages to rise above itself and displays some pure visual mastery. There's no fall-back, no weak moments, just 'impressive' and 'even more impressive'.
The soundtrack operates on a similar level but stays a bit more in the background. It's atmospheric, well-timed and never too intruding, adding to the general darkness of the film. Acting could've been better but it suffices. While both leads (Osawa and Sada) do a pretty good job, the secondary characters don't always manage to act on the same level. It's nothing too serious, though I'm some scenes would've turned out just a little better if Nishimura would've had better actors to work with.
As the film progresses the credibility keeps dropping little by little. If you can't appreciate its style, you'll probably start to hate it with a vengeance. Its two hour running time isn't exactly helping either, especially since the last 30 minutes consist of a simple succession of plot twists. I didn't mind much, the source material is cool/nerdy enough to warrant the extra minutes, the visual style more than pleasing enough to sooth the nerves.
The Battling Angel is a movie with obvious shortcomings, but offers plenty in return to direct your mind away from them. Whether you can solely depends on what you expect from it. For me, it's a neat little rush, oozing style and delivering all that it needs to. Others will loath the film, but that's not bad either. It's always better than seeing it die a lonely death, so go out and try it for yourselves.
Beware spoilers, if you don't mind check out the unsubbed trailer.