The elegant, tantalizing Japanese American neo-noir "Man From Reno," set in the Bay Area and directed with sincere genre artistry by Dave Boyle, threads together a pair of narrative strands appealing to any mystery buff: the percolating thrill of amateur sleuthing and the cool, deductive logic of professional casework.
Sharp-eyed Aki (Ayako Fujitani) is a Japanese crime novelist hiding out from a press tour in an atmospheric San Francisco hotel when a dalliance with a mysterious stranger (Kazuki Kitamura) with a suitcase waylays her depression and sparks her crime-solving juices. Meanwhile, a small-town sheriff (Pepe Serna) south of the city searches for the unnamed Japanese man he accidentally hit on a foggy road one night and who disappeared from his hospital room.
Eventually the stories converge in a labyrinthine plot worthy of Ross MacDonald, and aided greatly by the wise, unforced charm of longtime character standout Serna, and Fujitani's commanding hauntedness. Suffused throughout the sophisticatedly visualized "Man From Reno," though, is a melancholy and darkness reminiscent of Alan J. Pakula's abyss-rich '70s thrillers.
Like any good purveyor of noir, Boyle, who wrote the film with Joel Clark and Michael Lerman, understands that identifying someone is only one endgame while the mystery of identity is naggingly, tragically endless.
'Man from Reno'
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle Royal, West L.A., and Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena.