The two main characters in Dave Boyle’s labyrinthine neo-noir, "Man From Reno," make an oddball pair of sleuths. Aki Akahori (Ayako Fujitani) is a renowned Japanese mystery writer, hiding out from the paparazzi in San Francisco. Paul Del Moral (Pepe Serna) is the sheriff of the fictional San Marco County, south of the city. The depressed, enigmatic Aki and the grizzled, avuncular Paul don’t meet until an hour into the movie, when he knocks on her hotel door while investigating a murder.
|‘Man From Reno’
Opens Friday at Kahala 8
Aki, who has every reason to be wary, is understandably reluctant to let him in, having abruptly left a book tour in a state of nervous exhaustion. Ever since her one-night stand with a dashing charmer calling himself Akira Suzuki (Kazuki Kitamura), whom she met in the hotel bar, she has been pestered by ominous, inquisitive strangers looking for Akira or someone impersonating him.
Because they met only that night, Aki is of little help. The morning after their rendezvous, Akira vanished, leaving behind his luggage. Examining the contents, one item she finds is a head of lettuce. Being a mystery writer, her curiosity is piqued.
Paul is on the trail of another disappearance. In the movie’s opening scene, while driving through a thick fog, he notices an abandoned vehicle, but before he is able to stop to inspect it, the driver accidentally stumbles into his path. The victim survives the collision and is taken to a hospital but flees, leaving behind his clothes.
These disappearances initially seem unrelated. But Paul’s investigation leads him to San Francisco, and he and Aki encounter a world of smugglers with multiple identities, mobsters, drawers filled with passports and a priceless shipment of rare turtles stored in a toilet tank in Aki’s hotel room.
"Man From Reno" belongs to the subgenre of noirs that gather new characters and subplots as they advance into the fog. You can never be sure if its Japanese characters are who they say they are, and many of the principals’ uncertain identities, compounded by the English-Japanese language barrier, lend "Man From Reno" an extra layer of mystery. As in a Patricia Highsmith novel, deception rules. Aki herself has a history of secrecy and duplicity, her first mystery novel having been written by someone else who died before it was published.
The film by Boyle, who also directed "Daylight Savings" and "Surrogate Valentine," has an undercurrent of dark comedy. The mere existence of those turtles, who turn out to be pet shop substitutes for smuggled reptiles, is a joke in itself. In one scene, the ever-paranoid Aki, while pressing her ear against a hotel wall to overhear a conversation, notices a hand reaching through the doorway of her chain-locked suite, rushes to slam the door on it and produces a howl of pain.
"Man From Reno," which nods to noirs from "Chinatown" to "Vertigo," neither of which it matches in stylistic elegance, self-consciously deploys the cinematic tricks of the noir trade, from camera angles to shadows. But it refrains from emotionally drawing you into its impenetrable scheme. Once Aki begins assisting Paul, you expect a jovial camaraderie to develop between them, but it doesn’t. Even so, "Man From Reno" fascinates.