In the wake of a 1995 earthquake that rocked central Japan, Yukari (Yoshino Kimura) has come all the way from Tokyo to pitch in with the clean-up. Once there, she learns that she has the ability to read the minds of others and starts using it to help relieve their various traumas. But one girl Yukari encounters proves to be quite the enigma: Chihiro (Yu Kurosawa), who seems to be a perfectly average high schooler. The reality is that she possesses thirteen different personalities, including a suicidal junkie and a five-year-old reliving a car accident. But the most dangerous personality of all is Isola, a wraith who can actually cause harm to those who antagonize Chihiro. Still trying to get a grip on her own abilities, Yukari sets out to uncover Isola's origins and stop her from hurting Chihiro or those around her.
Films ask their viewers to accept the impossible on a constant basis, but in a few cases, the demands can seriously pile up. Not only does Isola ask the world of you, it unloads everything it has in one sluggish, eye-rolling load without even waiting for an answer. Not only that, but it's very flippant towards itself, casually acknowledging elements and events that would barely fly in Hideo Nakata movies. There's a lot to go through here, what with Yukari's psychic powers, Chihiro's multiple personalities, and science experiments that kinda, sorta attempt to tie the fine mess together. But nothing comes close to gelling, and that's mostly because Isola hasn't a hint of logic to its name. I'm all for flicks tapping into their bizarre sides (hell, that's pretty much why I have a Netflix account), but there has to be some structure for me to accept any of this without the words "Pabst," "Blue," and "Ribbon" being involved.
Take, for instance, Yukari. She's a bit of a wild card, since we see her have the occasional freak-out in between popping antipsychotics throughout the film. Fair enough, and at the beginning, she seems surprised that she can hear what those around her are thinking, but towards the end, she gives the impression that she's been living as a psychic for some time. Then there's Chihiro, who the movie goes out of its way to say has thirteen personalities. Even the film's technical subtitle is Persona 13, but the most we ever get to know are three or four, and that's including Isola. On top of that, if Chihiro is so troubled to begin with, why isn't she being cared for professionally? Sure, she has an adoptive father who couldn't care less about her, but when Yukari proposes medicating Chihiro later on, she acts like it's the breakthrough of the century. There's no consistency whatsoever, just plot twists that duck their heads in because the drama of the moment dictates that something happen.
I didn't mean for this review to turn into a total bitchfest, but one of my benchmarks for a bad movie is that I think more about the nagging details than I end up enjoying the action. I dug some aspects of Isola, especially Kurosawa's sympathetic acting and a creepy look that you'd swear didn't belong to a ten-year-old flick. But as Isola demonstrates in the latter's favor, there's a big difference between a thriller that grabs you by the balls and one that pounds them into baking soda.