Treasure Island

Scott King uses several Chicago theater actors in this visually striking, formally ambitious first feature (1999) about spies trying to cripple Japan's intelligence operations during World War II. Two American cryptographers at a fictional San Francisco naval base are composing correspondence about the identity of a corpse, in an elaborate campaign intended to persuade the Japanese that they've uncovered valuable American intelligence. As a narrative, the film can be frustratingly opaque and peculiar—there's a succession of scenes that seem fundamentally at odds with one another and never quite coalesce into a coherent whole. But as a work of imagination it's impressive, showcasing King's inventive use of spatial and temporal rhythms and diagonal framing and evolving into a fascinating, trenchant portrait of the time and culture as it explores racism, xenophobia, aberrant sexuality, nationalism, and honor. The acting, especially by leads Lance Baker and Nick Offerman, is strong, unconventional, and deeply compelling. King shot the beautifully textured black-and-white images, which are wonderfully complemented by the editing and production design. Not a complete success, but this film's ambition puts a lot of American independent cinema to shame. 86 min.

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