I am biased about Dave Boyle’s mystery Man from Reno, recently released in select theatres throughout the US.
I am biased because I am in it.
A couple of CAAMFests ago in San Francisco, I ran into my friend Taro Goto. He was involved in co-producing Man from Reno and one of the photos used in the film features his image. He asked me if I could help corral some extras for the film. Besides a co-worker who didn’t make the cut but is clearly visible in the Kickstarter promotion video, I brought myself. And even though my scene is, as my wife timed it, about 0.5 seconds in length, and even though I’m in movement and you only know it is me if you are looking for me, it was a riot to see myself on screen, even with that self being a blur. Any film you are in is going to be a film you’ll advocate for. Plus, I have other friends besides Goto associated with the film. Musician Goh Nakamura, the muse for Boyle’s last two films Surrogate Valentine (2011) and Daylight Savings (2012), provides some original songs. And one of the drummers in one of my wife’s bands worked on the film crew. I have biases galore with this film, which also includes the fact that the film takes place in San Francisco, where I presently live.
Now, when a film is based in a city you love and have lived in, that bias can go either way. You are hyper aware whether the director uses the city well. In the case of Man from Reno, Boyle uses the distinct spaces and places of San Francisco beyond the clichés of the painted ladies and the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars. Boyle takes this city to heart rather than merely as a prop. You feel like Aki Akahori and the mysterious Japanese men are truly roaming around your city as part of the public, rather than witnessing your city merely as a backdrop. How Boyle uses the infamous San Francisco fog at the beginning of the film is worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination (there is a Twitter account anthropomorphizing the local weather condition as ‘Karl The Fog’ that could accept the prize.) I live near the bookstore, Green Apple, where Aki stumbles into the mystery man for a second time. When she says the hotel recommended the bookstore, everyone in San Francisco knows the truth in that statement. Green Apple is the next best bookstore in the US next to Powell’s in Portland, Oregon.
But even with those biases in check, I feel I would still be able to advocate for this film for the powerful performances. Pepe Serna plays a sheriff from a nearby town with a cautious yet determined approach. Boyle always promised Serna he’d develop a lead role for him after he played minor characters in his first two features, Big Dreams, Little Tokyo (2006) and White on Rice (2009). Serna has said that he’s heard that promise from others before, but Boyle was the only person to follow through. The veteran character actor now considers this his favorite role, even more than the role you know him for, getting cut up by a chainsaw in Scarface (1983). Ayako Fujitani plays her part with deliberate patience that slowly reveals she has secrets too. The dinner party moment where Aki breaks from Japanese decorum is a particular delight. Everyone mentions her famous father in describing Fujitani, and that’s ok. He’s her pops. But I’ll refrain from mentioning him since I want Fujitani to shine on her own accord here. It’s not that she’s transfixing or mesmerizing. I feel those words would imply she is a distraction taking you out of the scenes. To me, Fujitani presents Akahori as a concentrated, complex character, drawing you into wanting to know what is motivating her. And then there is Kazuki Kitamura of Killers (2014) and The Raid 2 (2014), playing the coolest mystery man I’ve seen in a while. That moment when he just looks at Aki, and as a result looks at us the audience, while buttressed against the wall of the hotel room, that image is future dorm room wall poster material for college crushes across the nation’s campuses. Dude is looking James Dean cool, Ryan Gosling fine.
But I’d be lying if I wasn’t also delighted by my minor performance, my minor movement in the film. It makes me schoolboy giddy, which is why I’m way more cut out for commenting on films than being in them. Searching for my elusive image is yet another mystery to pull you through the world Boyle, Serna, Fujitani, Kitamura, Goto, Nakamura, Chen, Green Apple, Karl the Fog, San Francisco, and everyone else involved in this film – including us extras! – have created.