A couple whose marriage is falling apart gives a stranger a ride. Little do they know that they have just embarked on a journey to hell in Takeshi Yokoi's Hitch-Hike. Stephen Tan reviews.


It would have been too pat and too passe had director Takeshi Yokoi (aka Kenji Yokoi) made his hitch-hiker stranger a serial killer. After all, any actor would have a tough job trying to top Rutger Hauer as the hitch-hiker from hell in writer Eric Red's The Hitcher (1986).

Toshio (Susumu Terajima), who has been working away from home for six months, arranges to meet his wife, Reiko (Yuki Takeuchi), at the airport. On the drive home, they almost knock down a hitch-hiker (Kazuyoshi Ozawa), who had suddenly dashed out into the middle of the road.

Apologising profusely and saying that his car had broken down, the stranger gets a ride from Toshio, much to the dismay of his wife. The conversation between the men had generally been friendly but things turn nasty when the stranger comments that Reiko probably had not had any sex for a long while. This angers Toshio who stops the car and asks the stranger to get off. While removing the bag from the boot, Toshio is attacked by the stranger who whips out a shortgun.

Tormented by the stranger as they continue the drive, Toshio is shown to be ineffectual in standing up for his wife as Reiko is repeatedly raped by the stranger. Going through the couple's handphones, the stranger also finds messages that show that the couple have not only drifted apart but are almost strangers to each other: Toshio is having an affair with his secretary while Reiko is not only addicted to drugs but is scheming to do away with Toshio. To carry out her plan, she has also engaged the help of Hiroshi Yamamoto, who has been following their car.

Certainly the stranger is no angel. He is actually obsessed with Reiko and had planned the entire ambush. But in one of his lapses of concentration, Toshio stabs him in the neck but he manages to escape. Like a bad penny, he shows up again for the final confrontation with the couple, who need to work together one last time, despite their differences.

While Eric Red's The Hitcher has cast a long shadow, Takeshi Yokoi's Hitch-Hike still manages to hold the viewer's attention, especially in the first third of the film, as he keeps everyone guessing as to the stranger's true intentions. As the stranger, Kazuyoshi Ozawa's slightly goofy mannerisms and apparent humility are disarming and there is a certain relish in the way the director peels away each layer of the seemingly convoluted plot.

From the beginning, viewers already given an inkling to Toshio's philandering ways (there is an exchange of telling emails to a certain Satomi) but their sympathies are first drawn to Reiko, who has been left alone as the neglected wife. But then Reiko has not been idle. The relationship with her husband might have soured but there is always that insurance money.

Imaginatively told, grandly photographed and punctuated with bursts of violence and sex (Yuki Takeuchi gets to show off her breast in the rape scenes), Hitch-Hike is a worthy Japanese road movie, and there doesn't seem to be too many of those. With slide guitar and sparse landscape, Hitch-Hike best recalls Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, only it's more macabre and more chilling.

Note: The Hitch-Hike DVD (Creative Axa) is banned in $ingapore.

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September 25, 2007


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