Film Review: Hotel Chelsea – Free To Watch Online For Japan Relief
The Hotel Chelsea in New York City is the setting for an unnerving, visually arresting tale of murder and intrigue!
Newly Weds Kenji (Hiro Masuda) and Emi Tanaka (Nao Nagasawa), decide to spend their honeymoon abroad at the famous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, New York. That night, Kenji is brutally murdered, his dead body is discovered in the bathroom by Emi. The only piece of evidence to the crime is the murder weapon and a video camera belonging to the couple, which has, apparently, recorded the whole nasty ordeal. A shaken and distraught Emi recounts her and her husband’s footsteps to Detective Smith (Anthony Laurent) in order to figure out why Kenji was murdered, and more importantly, by whom. What follows is a twist of events which involves Emi’s previous lover, a Japanese artist, and a suspicious police officer – all potential suspects.
Without trying to give too much away, the plot to Hotel Chelsea is purposely misleading; we are pulled from pillar to post whilst trying to guess who the real murderer is and are kept speculating until the climax reveals all. Hiro Masuda’s script utilises the main characters, which are kept to a handful, and flashbacks to help spin a web of intrigue. It’s only after a second viewing that the craftsmanship of the scriptwriter can really be appreciated and how the dialogue reveals more than is first realised.
The narrative is told from the viewpoint of Emi, played by the beautiful Nagasawa who portrays the emotions of her character with much conviction and her broken English upholds very well. Nagasawa is probably best known for her role as Hurricane Blue in the Super Sentai TV series Ninpuu Sentai Hurricanger. By her being cast in Hotel Chelsea it proves that she can quite comfortably pull-off playing a leading role, which led to her winning the Best Actress Award at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival (South Carolina, USA) in 2009.
The supporting cast, which includes popular Japanese actress Sawa Suzuki (who recently appeared in the remake of Ghost), Anthony Laurent and Justin Morck, do a fine job. Daniel Wilkinson, however, who plays Emi’s secret lover Joshua Smith is less convincing and lacks passion, coming across a little dull at times. The film’s writer and producer, Masuda, has written himself into the story as the murdered husband. Although his time on screen is relatively brief, Masuda gives a subtle, yet noticeable, performance.
However, where the film succeeds most is in its production values. Shot with RED 4K digital cameras, although it was made on a shoestring, its overall look is very stylish and illustrates that recent advancements in digital camera techniques is particularly beneficial to independent filmmakers.
As director, Jorge Valdes-Iga wisely chooses to keep the wide-angle shots to a bare minimum, preferring to come in close to create an intense claustrophobic atmosphere whilst making good use of enclosed spaces such as the hotel room in which the murder takes place. Respectfully, if the director was given too much freedom by way of having a bigger budget, the film would have perhaps lost some of its intensity which, ironically, is owed in part to its financial restraints, for sure.
The hotel itself appears menacing: The long, caste-iron zigzag staircase lends itself to being like the skeletal structure of a perilous amphibian with the hotel outer walls forming its skin.
The music is also of high value. Produced and composed by Kazushi Miyakoda, it comprises of haunting piano parts and violins as well as the tinkling of notes liken to that of a musical jewellery box, which stirs an emotion response in the viewer and infuses the intense build-up of the concluding twist. The film score is a vital ingredient within the film’s mixure building the tension to an almost unbearable height. Fans of the popular Japanese rock group, The Gazette, will appreciate the use of the song “Headache Man” as the closing theme.
With a running time of only 70 minutes, it is unfortunate the film isn’t 20 minutes longer; this would allow more time for character development and to throw in a few extra red herrings in the tale. Nevertheless, it is tightly plotted and stylishly woven together.
If you love the suspense of Hitchcock and the early work of horror maestro Dario Argento such as Bird With The Crystal Plumage and The Cat o’Nine Tails, then you will be equally impressed by Hotel Chelsea. The rapidity flows seamlessly from one scene to the next and keeps the viewer guessing until the very last frame. Since its official release in Tokyo on 8th May 2009, Hotel Chelsea has achieved critical acclaim and it went on to receive the award for Best Foreign Film at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in 2009. Who says you need millions of dollars to make a great movie!
Masuda has made Chelsea Hotel free to watch online in order to help raise money for the Ashinaga Education Fund to support orphans of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.
To watch Hotel Chelsea, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/IchigoIchieFilmsLLC
“If there is any chance that I can contribute this film to the world in order to obtain help for my country, I want to believe the power of entertainment and give it try.” Hiro Masuda / Producer Ichigo Ichie Films LLC www.ichigoichiefilm.com