starring Kôichi Satô, Kiki, Tae Kimura, Akira Emoto
written and directed by John Williams
by Walter Chaw Stylishly shot, enough so that the neophyte might mistake it for a sparkling example of J-horror, Starfish Hotel addresses that old saw of a character wondering if he's a "character" as mysterious events unfold around him. Handled with more care and intelligence by the first 4/5ths of Marc Forster's Stranger Than Fiction, Starfish Hotel acts as a survey of other pictures (most notably the mascot motifs of Donnie Darko and Kontroll) as it goes on its merry non-horror, In the Mouth of Madness way. In this one, workaday Tokyo stiff Arisu (Koichi Sato) begins to believe he's a construct in his favourite novelist's latest when his wife disappears and he becomes unable to stop reliving his brief encounter with seductress Kayoko (the smoking-hot Kiki). Aided by a mysterious pamphleteer in a grey bunny suit, Arisu traces his wife to a high-class brothel that matches a recurring dream in addition to conveniently evoking a Kubrickian set-piece that is likewise unerotic and tainted this time around by the feeling inescapable that not only have we been down this velvet-rimmed, cigar-tainted alley before, but that each time the returns have diminished. Starfish Hotel is beautiful to look at, but for all its desperation for surreality and mystery (it ends with a series of oblique nothings), it resolves itself as not much more than a reminder that guys like Takashi Miike are doing it better half a dozen times a year without breaking this kind of sweat.