Movie Review: Mystery Train (1989)

Title: Mystery Train 
Release Date: November 17, 1989
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Production Company: Mystery Train Inc. | Victor Company of Japan | MTI Home Video

Mystery Train is an anthology movie of three stories set on one night in Memphis, Tennessee, where the city itself is a character in the film.  The slow-moving vignettes are more about vibes than plot but function very well as quick character studies.  Either Memphis was really rundown when filming in 1988 or Jim Jarmusch scouted out the most derelict parts of town to film in.  The sets underscore the feeling of decay in the stories.  The characters from all three stories end up at the fleabag Arcade Hotel, run by the night clerk (musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in a snazzy red suit) and a shy bellhop (Cinqué Lee).

The three stories:

  • “Far from Yokohama” features a young hipster couple from Japan, Mitsuko (Youki Kudoh) and Jun (Masatoshi Nagase), traveling the US to see sites related to the origins of rock & roll.  Their relationship shows signs of strain, and not just because the disagree on whether Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins is better.
  • ” A Ghost” is about the recently widowed Luisa (Nicoletta Braschi) from Rome, who is stranded in Memphis while escorting her husband’s coffin. After being pursued by a creepy man (Tom Noonan) telling her stories about the ghost of Elvis, she ends up sharing a room in the Arcade Hotel with the talkative Dee Dee (Elizabeth Bracco) who is leaving her long term boyfriend.
  • “Lost in Space” stars Joe Strummer of the Clash as Johnny who falls into a depressive rage after Dee Dee leaves him and he is laid off on the same day. He ends up robbing a liquor store with his friend Will Robinson (Rick Aviles) and Dee Dee’s brother Charlie (Steve Buscemi) as unwilling accomplices.

I really enjoyed this film and found it just a brilliant combination of mood, scripting, and acting.  I only wish I’d seen it much sooner, because this is a movie I’d like to watch again and again.


Rating: ****1/2