The main character, Goro, is suitably mysterious, with only the vaguest of outline as to his past. Not being a flaw in any way, it keeps the film from any ‘I also cook’ kind of clichés and allows his character to fill the shoes of the ‘unknown quantity’, essentially for these kinds of stories. “Chameleon” rewards the viewer with several genuinely good action sequences, but somehow fails to click as a whole. It’s a near miss. This is no fault of the cast’s, but very clearly a structural and pacing problem. Anyone can fight when their lives depend on it and their effectiveness comes down to their training and experience. I quite liked how raw and undisciplined these scenes were. It shows how little need there really is for martial arts precision in action films when the fights are kept real.
As above, the other characters range from supporting to integral roles but all have at least something that lets them sparkle throughout the course of the film. I went into this film not expecting much but I ended up pleasantly surprised. The characters were the usual archetypes of wounded 20 somethings, wise elderly and nasty gangsters. However, as a genre film, I don’t think that the film suffered for their use. Instead I quite enjoyed the interactions between the protagonists and the warmth in their makeshift family. Also, the unrelenting menace of the antagonists was genuinely gripping.
It’s 97 minutes long but feels longer, and in retrospect whole chunks of the film, especially the romantic subplot, could have been cut without any effect on the story. Film noir exercises like this need to go long on con and revenge, with the talky bits in-between kept to a lean minimum. “Chameleon” inverts the ratio, and it’s a shame. What does work works very well, but there simply isn’t enough of it. It was an enjoyable film with an ending I didn’t quite expect. I recommend it to anyone interested in Japanese film of this genre. Just don’t go in with your Hollywood hat, and you will have a good time with the subtle course of the film.