Pyrokinesis (2000)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (3.5/5)
August 11th, 2004 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

The 2000 film Pyrokinesis is Shusuke Kaneko's science fiction effort about Junko Aoki, a woman who possesses pyrokinetic powers. The movie was, more or less, a project intended to impress Toho so Kaneko could direct the 2001 Godzilla film, which in that regard the film was a success. However, the actual film is an uneven effort, although it pays off near the end of the film despite a rocky start. The story itself is interesting, although problems arise with the pacing. The acting tends to range from good to mediocre, though the characters themselves are well fleshed out in the movie. The film's score, on the other hand, is a real let down considering the composer's previous work, while the film's prime selling point, the amazing special effect work by Toshihro Ogawa, is fairly limited.

The story of Pyrokinesis follows the hardships of Junko Aoki, a woman who possesses the power to ignite molecules and control fire, as she deals with a criminal organization known as the Guardians. Junko works as a mail carrier for a large Japanese firm and receives an invite to a party, hosted by the employees who live at the local Toho Pulp Dormitory, from Tada Kazuki. At the party she befriends Tada's younger sister, Yukie, and agrees to escort her part of the way home. However, once separated, Yukie is kidnapped and killed by members of the Guardians, an organization who has been filming the slaughter of young girls to sell the footage to clients. The death does not go unnoticed by the police, who have been on the trail of the string of deaths in the vicinity. Under suspicion, the police take in Masaki Kogure, a young 18 year old who was in fact behind the series of murders. Unable to prove anything, though, and with Kogure's lawyers threatening legal action of their own, the police release Kogure.

Deciding to seek their own justice, Tada joins up with Junko, after she reveals to him her powers, and they set out to kill Kogure. Spotting Kogure at a park, Juniko almost succeeds, until Tada calls it off after getting cold feet. Junko, however, decides to seek vengeance by herself then, and hunts down and kills Yukie's murders, save Kogure, with the help of Koichi Kido, an ESPer who can control others with his touch. Matters become more complicated, though, with the introduction of Kaori Kurata, an individual with the powers of pryokinesis as well as the ability to read others thoughts and emotions through touch. With the appearance of Kaori, the other members of the Guardians emerge, as Kido proves traitorous and uses his mind control powers over Kaori under the order of chief of police Hasegawa, the leader of the Guardians. Under Kido's control, Kaori fights Junko in a local amusement park. The confrontation badly injures Junko, as Hasegawa snipes Kido from a rooftop, believing he might revolt against his leadership. The police's riot team then closes in on the amusement park as a conflicting between them and Junko ensues. Junko is able to hold her own, though, until Kogure emerges holding Tada, who has been doused with gasoline, at gunpoint. Junko uses her powers to heat the air far above, causing a down pour which allows her to safely incinerate Kogure without harming Tada. Hasegawa, however, takes the opportunity to shoot Junko in the back, killing her. The following day Hasegawa delivers his report on the amusement park conflict to the press when he is suddenly burned alive, mysteriously.

Pyrokinesis' story is rather convoluted, yet this works to keep the viewer guessing nearly tell the climax as to who exactly the film's hero or heroine is. The trailers actually portray Junko to look like the film's antagonist, and the movie toys with this perception as well, before she is finally revealed as an anti-hero in the film, just trying to curb the deaths of innocents by any means. The film's actual villains, the Guardians, are a little too outlandish in terms of the actual organization's goals: the cleansing of society; however, once Kido is introduced, the story's credibility takes a downward spiral anyway as he is just thrust at the viewer with no real explanation other than that ESPers appear to be a rare gifted breed of humans, taking a page out of the mutants from the X-Men series it would seem. Still, a nice angle on the revenge story line, with a awkward romance between Junko and Tada as a side plot, although it actually makes it feel more genuine at times. The other side plot, detective Maklhara seeking vengeance on Junko for the death of his brother-in-law at her hands as a child, feels out of place and doesn't really pay off in the end when it's only partially resolved.

Pacing, on the other hand, tends to be an issue. The film starts out rather slow, developing Junko's past with a lengthy flashback which, if not sandwiched with the film's opening credits, might have been a huge blemish on the final product. There are also some rather long winded scenes of exposition on the part of the two detectives in the film as well. Still, the film's ending climax, the fight in the amusement park and the following confrontation with the riot police, is a treat and the film wisely wraps up quickly afterwards.

Sadly, the acting performances in the movie are kind of a mixed bag. Akiko Yada, as Junko Aiko, does a good job as the film's lead, and is excellent with portraying the range of emotions required for the role. On the other hand, Hideaki Ito, as Tada Kazuki, seems to lack the experience required for his part, and is in over his head during some scenes, such as when he's supposed to be mourning over the death of his sister as his "waterworks display" is in obvious need of fine tuning. The chemistry between the two leads is there, though, which is important as their relationship isn't given much time to develop. Kaori Momori and Ryuuji Harada do a good job as the film's detective pair, Ishizu and Makihara, adding some needed comic relief on occasion in the film. Momori in particular is great in the film, stealing the show on numerous occasions. Toshiyuki Nagashima goes against his usual role this time in portraying the film's villain, the corrupt chief of police Hasegawa. Nagashima does a good job in the role, adding a straight face to the almost stereotypical character in which he is playing. The token Yukijiro Hotaru role in a Kaneko film is here as well, as this time he portrays the crooked reporter Asaba, and as always Hotaru does a great job of adding his, trademark, worried mannerisms to his screen time making his scenes particularly memorable.

The characters of Pryokinesis are well developed, at least for what is required of them. Junko, as expected, is the most developed character in the film, and is well fleshed out in terms of exploring her motives and background. Tada, who seems rather flat at first, develops nicely through the course of the film following his sister's death. Both of the detectives, Ishizu and Makihara, are well fleshed out too, although most of the motives given for Makihara with the death of his step brother seem a little forced. Yukie, a minor character in the film, is actually given a great deal of development leading up to her eventual death. Junko and Yukie bond very quickly in the film, but Kaneko manages to make this credible with how he chooses to develop Yukie's character. Kido, the film's traitorous ESPer, ends up being the most complex of the film's villain, with his unfortunate relationship with Junko, while the other antagonists are rather flat, but then not much is required from them anyway, in particular the rather stock Hasegawa figure.

Kow Otani's score is, if anything, entirely unmemorable. On the heels of his excellent score for Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999), comes what feels like a rushed effort by Otani with several cues, such as the one that plays during the family grieving over Yukie, seeming inappropriate for the given scene, while others sound like they were culled directly from his Gamera 3 score. The Pyrokinesis soundtrack doesn't work well as a stand alone experience, and actually manages to detract from several scenes in the film, including portions of the climax. If anything thing, the score is primarily just a huge disappointment given Otani's impressive portfolio of previous work.

When all is said and done, one of Pyrokinesis' main draws is the awesome special effect work by Ogawa. Ogawa's special effects, while rather limited, are never disappointing. His self restrain in not wanting to rely entirely in CGI is admirable, and the ending effect shows how well he is able to combine real footage with computer generated imagery. The film's title segment, a ring of fire which starts to crack in the center before spelling out the title, was created without the use of any CGI, which is a real testament to the man's expertise in the special effects field.

In conclusion, Pyrokinesis is an uneven effort, but one that still merits numerous viewings, if for nothing more than the interesting characters and impressive special effect work.