When writer-director Dave Boyle was nineteen, he spent two years as a Mormon missionary in Australia. He mainly hung out with Japanese surf bums, picking up enough of the language that when he returned to the States, he cast himself as a Japanophile businessman in his debut feature, Big Dreams Little Tokyo.
Ever since, he’s specialized in indie films about Asians in America, or more precisely, indie films that happen to star Asian actors as just a matter of fact, without flogging their casting into a pronouncement on the state of race relations. It’s a curious career for an early-thirties white dude, and thank heavens for it.
Boyle’s fifth and newest film, Man From Reno, is a San Francisco noir with a canny twist on Vertigo. Suicidal mystery novelist Aki (Ayako Fujitani, Steven Seagal’s daughter) reluctantly allows a hunk named Akira (Kazuki Kitamura) to pick her up at a hotel bar. The morning after their tryst, he vanishes and men start pounding on her door, including an old sheriff (Pepe Serna) who claims Akira was already dead.
Man From Reno‘s droll joke is that Asian double-crossers have it even easier than Kim Novak — Westerners don’t even try to tell them apart. Boyle could shear a few twists from the plot, which is almost too clever for its own good. Though it ticks on too long, watching Fujitani’s fascinating sleuth overestimate her skills is as satisfying as a mug of hot matcha on a soul-chilling night.