Japan has more than its share of wild man movie directors, like Shinya Tsukamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Takashi Ishii, Yoichi Sai, Go Riju -- filmmakers who take their crazy ideas and run like hell with them, making berserk, beautiful movies that, unfortunately, rarely find U.S. distributors. Well, here's one wild man who found one. Sogo Ishii, known here primarily for the spectacularly black 1984 comedy Crazy Family, started making wacko Super 8 features like High School Big Panic in the late '70s. Nowadays he's making gorgeous, baffling metaphysical thrillers like Angel Dust. From its first long shots of a city that resembles some android organism with bloodlike traffic flowing through its veins, Angel Dust doesn't look or move like anything you've ever seen. On the surface it's a serial-killer mystery -- every Monday at 6 p.m., on a crowded subway train, a young woman is injected with poison by a killer whistling a phrase from Dvorak's New World Symphony. A beautiful criminal psychologist, Dr. Setsuko Suma, is called in, who attempts to see through the killer's eyes. She focuses in on her ex-lover, a Cronenberg-esque rogue shrink named Dr. Aku, who runs the "Re-Freezing Psychorium," an exclusive, reportedly merciless, deprogramming clinic. As Suma probes, Aku brazenly plays her mind like a violin, sawing away at what turns out to be her already tenuous grip on her self. At the same time, director Ishii distorts our perceptions as well, with haunting, devastating results; he slips us in and out of dreams, head games, and "reality" with masterful ease, presenting even the simple lighting of a cigarette as a bizarre ritual filled with portent. It turns out that Ishii isn't particularly interested in having the mystery solved -- he'd rather pile on a few more puzzles and drive us as nuts as Aku drives Suma. You're guaranteed to exit the theater scratching your head, so don't worry too much about where Angel Dust is going to end up -- just getting there is worth the trip.
-- Tod Booth
Angel Dust screens at 7 and 9:30 p.m. nightly from Friday, July 18, through Thursday, July 24. There are also matinees Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday at 2 and 4:30 p.m. All shows are at the Roxie, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia). Tickets are $6; call 863-1087.