Once in a while, I come across a film that defies categorization, and once in great while, I come across a film that is viewed in completely different ways by different people. “Freeze Me” is both and, believe it or not, I am actually a better person for having watched it. Or, at least, better informed.
I detest spoilers, but a brief summary (less than what is written on the back of the box) is necessary. Chihiro is young Japanese businesswoman with a dark secret from her past – she is the victim of a gang rape. At the start of the film it is five years later, and she is happily making plans for her wedding, when the first rapist, newly released from prison, knocks on her door. He brings news that the others are coming, and they want a repeat performance. What’s more, he is armed – with a videotape of the previous rape. If she doesn’t do as they say, he will release the tape to the public.
What follows is an eye-opening social commentary on Japan’s complete ostracism of rape victims. Chihiro, like her real-life counterparts, faces an agonizing reality (one which she had already made after the initial rape); if word of her rape is made public, she will be forced to move, drop all ties to her current friends and fiancé, and renounce her identity. She will literally have to recreate herself somewhere else and start over.
This may be difficult for Western viewers to accept. In our own society however, this thinking is not so far removed. Victims still keep silent, and our justice system is not yet where it needs to be, although it is at least accepting of victims. Chihiro will do anything she has to do to keep her secret, crossing lines that would not otherwise be crossed. “Freeze Me” is a public cry for change, and a strong one.
Surprising, then, that this is not strictly a horror film, as it has been marketed, but at times a black comedy with some very tense moments. A comedy based on rape? Trust me, it works. It has to, actually; if this were strictly a horror movie, it would smack of exploitation and the message would be lost. For those concerned (and I was definitely one of them), the video of the rape is shown, but it is not as graphic as some have made it out to be. Shown in brief clips using flashbacks at key points, it is closer in content to the 1988 Jodie Foster vehicle “The Accused” then the relentless “I Spit On Your Grave.” Because of the way it is edited (much like the shower scene in “Psycho”) you think you’re seeing more than you actually are, and the result is disturbingly effective.
The responsibility of making this all work lies squarely on the shoulders of Harumi Inoue. Only 25 when she made the film, her Chihiro is strong and vindictive one moment, and coy and seductive the next. She maintains a sense of self awareness throughout, and there is always so much more going on behind her eyes than what her character may be vocalizing at the time. As she begins following the new path she is on, her downward spiral is fascinating to witness. One standout scene, where she is slightly drunk and speaking to her rapists (none of whom are listening), is simultaneously quite funny and utterly sad; I can think of only a few American actresses who could pull this off, and none as young as Harumi.
Which brings us to an important point: subtitles, or dubbing? Well, the DVD from Tokyo Shock offers both, but Harumi’s performance demands subtitles. I’m an advocate of subtitles anyway, but I have never seen a film so completely altered by dubbing as “Freeze Me.” Debbie Rothstein’s overdubbing of Chihiro turns her, and I’m being serious here, into a Valley Girl. The aforementioned scene becomes a farce, the entire film becomes shlock, and all subtlety is lost. The line is very fine with a movie like this, and the overdubbed performances don’t just cross it; they gleefully pole vault over it.
“Freeze Me” is not for everyone. Too violent at times to be drama (the first real scene of violence, while virtually bloodless, is one of the most disturbing things I have seen on film), yet too darkly humorous and dramatic to be strictly horror, it comes highly recommended by this reviewer to those who want more substance with their suspense.
Or to those who wonder just how different life can be only one ocean away.
Pros: Harumi Inoue’s amazingly intricate performance; gorgeous blue tones.
Cons: Rapist #3 needs acting lessons. In any language.
Review Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Freeze Me” (2000)
Also known as: Freezer
101 Minutes; Japanese
Not Rated, but equivalent to an “R” for violence, nudity, and a rape scene. (Catagory III) Not suitable for Children of any age
Harumi Inoue (Chihiro)
Shingo Tsurumi (Kojima)
Kazuki Kitamura (Hirokawa)
Directed by: Takashi Ishii
Viewing Format: DVD (from Tokyo Shock)
(Originally published on HorrorWatch)