Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Different Car is Always the Same

For many people, riding in a cab is an experience peculiarly mundane and invariably strange. It's a routine reason to put one's life in the hands of interchangeable strangers in cars that are almost, but not quite, identical. In a series of short anthology films released in 2014, 賃走談 1号車 and 賃走談 2号車 ("Renting the first car" and "Renting the second car"), director Soichiro Koga finds this experience fertile ground for ghost stories. I watched the second film, which is available free for Amazon Prime subscribers under the title Ghosts of the Night, and found it to be a nice set of four ghost stories, effectively creating a sense of strangeness through editing.

Each story involves a few people and each story doesn't directly indicate until its climax who the ghost is. But it's generally clear enough early on to anyone familiar with this Carnival of Souls style story and the film wisely doesn't take any pains to keep its secrets. It's not about the puzzle; each story is about slowly coming to terms with what is kind of obvious.

A high school girl comes home to her apartment and looks outside to see a strange man get out of a cab and hurry into the building. The next day, she sees the same thing--eerily, the exact same thing. It's so close it's probably exactly the same footage but, because it's such a mundane action, she and the viewer can't be sure. It's a nice, subtly strange effect.

In another story, a little girl accidentally leaves her ribbon in a cab. When her mother tries to phone the cab company, of course they don't recognise the name of the driver. Then the mother notices the little girl has been drawing the same distorted face over and over.

My favourite is the final story in the film in which a weary, melancholy cab driver picks up an excited young woman who's relieved to finally get a cab to take her to her job interview. He points out to her, in a tone of voice that suggests he knows there's no point in saying anything, that employers don't normally hold interviews this time of night. The mystery here is not who's the ghost, it's finding out why this guy is so used to talking to ghosts. I love his weariness and sadness, trapped in this position of always knowing something bad about these people, seeing them carrying on with their misapprehensions plain as day, but knowing he can't say anything to enlighten them and also knowing it might well be cruel to enlighten them. None of this is said, it's all in his attitude.

It's only 50 minutes, all the stories together. It's not a masterpiece but it's a nice little film.

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