While Toshiaki Toyoda (Yomigaeri no Chi) is working on a follow-up to Miike's Koruzo adaptations (Crows Zero, Crows Zero 2), he left us with another film to bridge the gap between Kurozu Explode and Monsters Club. I'm Flash is a bit of nostalgia for hardened Toyoda fans, though it's far from a mere rehash of his older work. A film that brings something unique to the table, but undeniably carries Toyoda's signature stamp.
I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm Flash left me quite perplexed. Somehow I never really got a grip on the film, I never really felt where it was headed or what was coming. For a seasoned film fan that's a pretty strange feeling. Usually a film gives you ample pointers to predict at least the course it will be sailing, not so with I'm Flash. Not sure if it was intentional or my sensors were just a little off when I watched it, but it was actually quite refreshing. It was an experience I hadn't had in a very long time and I actively welcomed it.
I'm Flash starts with a fatal crash between a car and a motorcycle. The motorcyclist is dead, the girl sitting in the car slips in a coma. The only one who walks away unscathed is Rui, the charismatic leader of a religious cult. Rui lives a protected life in a mansion owned by his family. To protect him from outside threats, a trio of hit men is hired by his mother.
Rui is revered by his followers, has money to spend and has all the time in the world. Still, he isn't too happy with his own life. He is tired of the charades, tired of preaching something he doesn't believe. Rui's conversation with the girl right before the crash is the last straw and when he walks away from the accident he decides to abandon the cult, leaving them completely beheaded. Obviously his family doesn't agree with Rui's decision as he is their primary milk cow and Rui leaving the cult will cost them a large portion of their followers.
Visually I'm Flash is more in line with Toyoda's older work. It's not as outspoken or overpowering as Monsters Club and probably a bit grim-looking at times, but there are enough great shots and stand-out moments to make for an attractive looking film. The setting alone makes for a few impressive shots and the camera work is determined and controlled at all times.
It's the soundtrack that gels everything together though. Toyoda is a master when it comes to finding the right music for a scene, in combination with his impeccable sense of timing and strong editing the score really lifts the quality of the film. It doesn't even matter what genre of music Toyodo is working with, he always seems a way to fit it into the film and to have it steer the atmosphere in a new direction. Combined with the visuals, it makes for an entrancing audiovisual experience.
On the acting side of things I'm Flash holds a few nice surprises. Personal favorite Ryuhei Matsuda (46 Okunen no Koi) plays a significant role and it seems he finally managed to shed his baby looks. The same goes for Tatsuya Fujiwara, who takes up the role of Rui. I'm not a very big Fujiwara fan but he does a great job here, playing the charismatic but slightly bewildered cult leader. Also notable is Kiko Mizuhara's appearance (Helter Skelter, Norwegian Wood) as the girl in the car, she certainly knows to pick her films.
It isn't easy to categorize a film like I'm Flash. I guess in the end it's a mixture of crime and drama, but the film never invokes the sentiments you'd expect from these two genres, nor combined, nor separate. It follows the life of Rui and his rather unique surroundings while keeping tabs on Rui's struggle with his own beliefs. But at the same time there are two unusual side stories that slowly take over the film and pull the film in a different direction. It results in a strong finale, but still fails to give the film a definite sense of belonging.
I'm Flash isn't going to become one of Toyoda's best loved films, but it surely is a great experience that is unique to the skills of the director. It's not often you see a film about cult leaders done like this and coupled with the strong audiovisual experience I'm Flash is a film that doesn't easily let itself compare to other films out there. Definitely recommended if you get the chance to see this one as it deserves a warm cult status.