Adrenaline Drive,
directed by Shinobu Yaguchi
(Shooting Gallery, 1999)

When is making a pot of tea more than making a pot of tea? When it leads you to hundreds of millions of yen that you can claim as your own.

Faced with the chance to take all this money, Satoru Suzuki, in Japanese director Shinobu Yaguchi's film Adrenaline Drive, swipes it and runs. It doesn't matter that, moments before, he was at the mercy of the Yakuza, a gambling crime gang. An explosion more comical than tragic has leveled their headquarters and Satoru (Masanobu Ando), there to be punished for causing a fender-bender, tries to make his escape.

He's not alone. Shizuko Sato, a meek student nurse (Hikari Ishida) happens upon the scene. She hops in the ambulance with him and Kuroiwa, the only other explosion survivor who has his Yakuza fortune with him in a metal box and his body strapped to a stretcher. The ambulance crashes -- again, more comical than tragic -- and the young pair spot the money, grab the box and run.

The Yakuza are dead. The police don't know about the money. And the people who paid the money certainly aren't going to step forward to make their claim. "It doesn't belong to anybody," Satoru reasons. And what it can do for Satoru and Shizuko is enormous. She can quit her studies and travel on an airplane. He can quit his job as a brow-beaten, miserably paid rental car clerk and tell his taunting boss what he really thinks. Adventure and romance await.

But the Yakuza are resilient creatures. The injured mobster survived the ambulance crash. Gangsters who weren't at the explosion scene learn who has the money. And, when they spot the wedding announcements Shizuko has sent out to explain her sudden departure, the chase is on.

In Big Studio/Big Blockbuster hands, Adrenaline Drive would take on the thriller overtones of a violent movie with big guns and bad guys. But this is something else entirely. It's an adventure of what happens to people when they're given (or they think they've been given) everything they need to live the lives they secretly want. Money can't buy happiness, but for Satoru and Shizuko, it could certainly make happiness possible. There are moments when the film is certainly more Japanese than American, too, in the humor. "Hide the company name!" says Satoru's panicked boss when an accident he caused sends them crashing into a gangster's car.

It's wonderful to watch Shizuko start to feel her wild oats, unfolding from a young woman who does nothing but study into an equal partner, an exuberant mastermind and, to the police, a heroine. Masanobu Ando gives Satoru a charm as he starts to find his backbone and, through fits and starts, solid ground.

Another standout is Yutaka Matsushige as the injured crime boss, bullying and charming nurses from his hospital bed, shifting alliances and manipulating the action to track down his cash.

Slapstick, lovesickness and gangsters chasing robbers, all in spirits good enough to prod the most reluctant subtitle-reader to give it a chance.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 8 September 2001

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