Though barely released in theaters, IRON MAZE's intricate plotting and fine, subtle ensemble performances make it a true video find.
The film's RASHOMON-style reconstruction of a possible crime from four different points of view makes for absorbing mystery after Junichi Sugita (Hiroaki Murakami), the son of a Japanese financier, is found beaten unconscious in a rundown US steel mill just purchased by his father. The likeliest
suspect, Barry (Jeff Fahey), an angry steelworker put out of work by the plant's shutdown, surrenders immediately to Jack Ruhle (J.T. Walsh), police chief of Corinth, Pennsylvania, a depressed industrial suburb of Pittsburgh where the action takes place. Barry pleads self-defense, saying that
Sugita had attacked him after finding out that he was having a affair with Sugita's sexy American wife, Chris (Bridget Fonda). Chris checks in, from her cellular car phone, with her own story that she'd been abducted by Barry, brought to the steel mill and raped. He then phoned Sugita to demand
ransom and killed him when they got into a fight after Sugita's arrival. Chris becomes a suspect herself when Sugita recovers conciousness. Seeing Chris and Ruhle at his bedside, he becomes excited, swearing to Ruhle that "Chris didn't do it." This draws a confession from Chris that she was
actually having an affair with Barry and had brought him to the steel mill, where they made love in her car. When her husband, after overhearing their lovemaking on the cellular phone, came to the mill, she attempted to kill him and tried to frame Barry, wishing to be free of both men.
The final piece of the puzzle comes from the fourth witness, Mikey (Gabriel Damon, ROBOCOP 2's adolescent villain), a disillusioned youngster from a broken home who haunts the abandoned mill and has come to see Barry as part surrogate father and part hero in the mold of mythical super-steelworker
Joe Magarac. In the end, however, it is Mikey who emerges as the hero, saving not only Barry, but Sugita and Chris as well--all from their worst enemies, themselves.
The mystery plot is convincingly played out against the larger drama of a Japanese takeover of a small American town in which the major players also prove to be their own worst enemies. Sugita, whose plans are to demolish the plant and erect an amusement park, antagonizes the town residents
through his initial lack of understanding of and sympathy for their anger; they have seen their town slowly die with an industry which has been exported, along with their jobs, to Japan. Barry, like the other townspeople, sees Sugita as a pillager rather than as a possible savior and takes his own
revenge by seducing his wife. Even would-be femme fatale Chris is more a victim of a false life than a diabolical demoness.
Director Hiroaki Yoshida does a remarkable job of knitting together the complex strands of the story, on which he collaborated with writer Tim Metcalfe. And his film's message--that Japanese and Americans should learn to start viewing each other with open-minded magnanimity rather than with
prejudice and suspicion--certainly can't be faulted. Cinematographer Morio Saequsa is no less meticulous in visually evoking the story's moods and makes the ruined steel mill a character in its own right as Mikey's own amusement park and the focus of the other characters' hopes and
But what makes IRON MAZE most engrossing is the outstanding work of its first-rate cast, especially Fahey and Fonda, who breathe life not only into their characters but also into a scenario whose only weakness is its overly schematic resolutions of its messy human crises. In life (or in Kurosawa's
classic RASHOMON, for that matter), people don't always learn to behave as reasonably or as decently as they do here. But it's a measure of the cast's skill in IRON MAZE that they easily make us believe it can be so and in the process make us care about what happens to them. (Violence, profanity,adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: Though barely released in theaters, IRON MAZE's intricate plotting and fine, subtle ensemble performances make it a true video find. The film's RASHOMON-style reconstruction of a possible crime from four different points of view makes for absorbing myster… (more)