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Brutus’ Heart or Brutus no Shinzo or ブルータスの心臓 (2011)

11_Moji_no_Satsujin-p2

Brutus’ Heart or Brutus no Shinzo or ブルータスの心臓 (2011) is the second of three made-for-television film adaptations of novels by Keigo Higashino and it starts off in a way that’s startlingly good. We begin two years before the main action with the death of an employee of MM Heavy Industries caused by the apparent malfunction of an industrial robot — he was going to marry Yumie Nakamori (Ai Kato) who continues to work for the company. Coming up to date, Takuya Suenaga (Tatsuya Fujiwara), Atsushi Hashimoto (Koji Ookura) and Naoki Nishina (Yoshihiko Hakamada) are being celebrated for their successful development of Brutus, an advanced robot developed by Takuya Suenaga. It is not only his pride and joy, it’s also critical to the future financial success of MM Heavy Industries. Toshiki Nishina (Morio Kazama), the CEO, is trying to encourage his daughter, Hoshiko Nashina (Sei Ashina), to marry Takuya Suenaga to keep him loyal to the company. Unfortunately, she has no intention of being a pawn in her father’s game and shrugs off Takuya Suenaga. This suits him because he’s having what he believes to be a secret relationship with Amamiya Yasuko (Rina Uchiyama) who works as Toshiki’s secretary. Unfortunately, she announces that she’s pregnant and that she doesn’t want to marry any of the men currently sleeping with her. She intends to collect cash from whoever the father turns out to be. In due course, it appears she’s also sleeping with both Atsushi Hashimoto and Naoki Nishina. If any of this becomes public, the careers of all three men will be finished so they decide to kill her.

Takuya Suenaga (Tatsuya Fujiwara)

Takuya Suenaga (Tatsuya Fujiwara)

 

Naoki Nishina devises a complex plan so that each of the three men will appear to have an alibi for the relevant time. The idea is that she will be killed in Osaka and then transported to Tokyo by the other two in relays. As required by this plan, Amamiya Yasuko goes to Osaka where Naoki Nishina is waiting. Following the plan, Takuya Suenaga collects the van containing a body. But when he’s handing it over to Atsushi Hashimoto, they discover they are moving the body of Naoki Nishina and not the expected Amamiya Yasuko. Since they both have alibis for what’s assumed to be the relevant time of death, they deliver the body to Naoki Nishina’s home and return to their expected places. In due course, it appears that none of the three men could be the father of the expected child, and that Naoki Nishina was an amateur magician who could do card tricks. Since the allocation of roles in his plan depended on people picking cards, it seems probable he manipulated the two into joining the plan and allocated their roles. But what’s not clear is who the father of Amamiya Yasuko’s child is and whether he killed Naoki Nishina. It seems unlikely Amamiya Yasuko killed Naoki Nishina because she would be less likely to know where to leave the body for Takuya Suenaga to collect. And even if she did know, why should she follow the plan designed for her death?

 

Like all human societies, Japan has class distinctions. The most significant is between the so-called elite and the rest of those who work. The people who distinguish themselves in the education system earn the right to go to the best universities where they are taught by the best teachers Japan can provide. Once they graduate, those with the top marks walk into the top jobs where they are venerated. In social and financial terms, they move in different circles. There’s only one point at which the worlds of the elite and the worker overlap. The robot never tires and never makes a mistake. It is the epitome of perfection to the elite, but feared by the workers because it makes them redundant. So if a robot had been used as a murder weapon, the elite at that time would probably have covered it up. Such an abuse is unthinkable. But two years later, another member of the elite might become aware of this abuse and be interested to discover who had subverted the programing of the machine. So, on the face of it, we’ve got an initial murder which may be connected in some way to the second. There’s also a major cover-up by MM Heavy Industries to preserve their reputation for infallible robot design. At a slightly lower level, there may be a form of extortion plot by Amamiya Yasuko to get three (or more) men to pay towards the cost of delivering and bringing up her baby.brutusnoshinzo

 

This is all a great set-up but, as we come closer to the end, it becomes obvious who the original killer must have been. Under normal circumstances, this would not have been a problem. The fact we can all see who committed the original crime does not distort the plot. But in this case, there’s been significant attrition and not many people are left standing. The climax is therefore very poor melodrama as we get accusations traded and admissions made. Unfortunately, although we do get to know who the father of Amamiya Yasuko’s child is, the show grinds unexpectedly to a halt just as I was waiting for the detectives to come in to try working out exactly what happened and what, if anything, should be done about it. By my reckoning, this adaptation finished between ten and fifteen minutes before it should. The result is distinctly frustrating because quite a lot of what happens is somewhat obscure. So Brutus’ Heart or Brutus no Shinzo is worth watching for the first two-thirds, but be prepared for disappointment as it comes to the end. Perhaps the novel is better.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

Battle Royale II: Requiem or Batoru rowaiaru tsū: Rekuiemu or (バトル・ロワイアルII (2003)

Battle Royal 2 Requiem (2003)

Having found the first Battle Royale fascinating, I’m now slightly embarrassed to find the sequel Battle Royale II: Requiem or Batoru rowaiaru tsū: Rekuiemu or (バトル・ロワイアルII (2003) offensive. To understand why, we need to review the plot. Set three years after the events of the first film, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara) has been a catalyst for the formation of a rebel group calling itself the “Wild Seven”. As the government increases the number of young adults forced to participate in the “battles”, the group strikes back in a 9/11 style bombing attack which brings down “twin towers” in Tokyo. This is the group declaring war on the adults. In the name of “justice” the government comes up with a new game plan. A group of school children is to be sent into battle against the Wild Seven. If children are the problem, then children should be the solution. In reality, of course, this is all rather silly. If any group of armed terrorists was sufficiently well organised to bring down two major skyscrapers, every policing and military adult at the disposal of the government would be on their track. The idea this group’s secret base would be identified and then attacked by a ragtag team of untrained students is absurd. But since the point of the film is to give our wild team members a fighting chance of survival, there can be no overflight with some rather large bunker-busting bombs, laser-guided to their destination. Instead, their location on a suitably uninhabited island is noted and the young adults recruited.

 

In this, I note the more explicit television coverage of the students, now fitted out with their collars, being taken into the centre for their orientation briefing. Seeing the terror on their faces would have the desired effect on the television audience. But just why has this bunch of terrorist kids come to this island? It makes absolutely no sense that such an age range of children and young adults would set up camp in an abandoned building like this when they could be enjoying the sunshine in Afghanistan or some other distant place where terrorism is the way of life and there’s safety in numbers. And before you ask, it turns out our terrorists had escaped to Afghanistan where they saw the true horrors of war and we get crass political interludes praising the children who have survived American bombing and other atrocities.

The Wild Seven appeal to the world

The Wild Seven appeal to the world

 

The main link between the two films is the introduction of Shiori Kitano (Ai Maeda). She’s the daughter of the teacher in the first film where he’s seen talking with her over the phone on several key occasions. It was not a happy relationship so she’s inevitably conflicted about his death. When she learns of his emotional attachment (in the purest sense of the words) to one of the girl’s in the class, she realises she has somehow missed out. In moments of unrealistic jealousy, she thinks this girl had a kind of parental relationship with her father. She therefore wants revenge and asks to be involved in the attack. This is part of some rather cod psychology on the part of the government. In the terrorist outrages, the Wild Seven have been responsible for the deaths of many adults. In selecting people to pit against these terrorists, the government therefore picks young adults whose parents have died at the hands of the Wild Seven. For the most part, these do not look like conventional students. They all affect a dress code and behaviour pattern suggesting they are more likely to be in sympathy with the terrorists than the government. But this just goes to show that, whether in a fictional or the real world, adults know nothing about children. To prove the point that bullying is not always the right approach, the “teacher” in charge, Riki Takeuchi (Riki Takeuchi), lays down the ground rules. You have three days to kill the terrorists or you die. Anyone who does not want to play the game can volunteer to demonstrate the destructive capabilities of those collars.

 

So this sends off the now forty volunteers on a sea-born landing that’s not exactly a success, leaving the kids running around like headless chickens on the beach (only metaphorically, of course). The shaky cam work is distinctly amateurish and the plot slowly devolves into almost complete stupidity as our amateur soldiers get a kicking from the terrorists who are well dug-in and prepared. The only point of interest in this is that Shiori Kitano proves a good leader and keeps as many alive as possible. Then, when the surviving conscripts have been persuaded to change sides, real soldiers attempt a landing and they are wiped out. This just gets progressively more silly as Riki Takeuchi sits in mission HQ and does nothing.

 

The real problem with the film is that it has no coherent point to make. It could be deeply political and discuss the relationship between a government and its people. Or it could take completely the opposite line and discuss under what circumstances, if any, it’s justifiable for a people to take up arms against its own government. Instead it flirts with inane trivialities. None of the people involved in this have any rational policy to pursue. These terrorists seem to believe it’s morally acceptable to pursue individual liberty even if it means killing large numbers of people on to way to achieving an unrealisable peace. It’s “children of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but the chains wrapped around you by your parents”. When this absurd propaganda is broadcast to the world, the Americans do what the Japanese should have done from the outset. They fire a few missiles at the island. This exceptionalism is deeply embarrassing to the Japanese Prime Minister. Its ally thinks it’s politically and morally acceptable to drop bombs on Japanese soil without asking permission first. The Japanese army is sent in. Who needs American missiles when the Japanese army can be sacrificed on a nameless island.

Shiori Kitano (Ai Maeda) out for revenge

Shiori Kitano (Ai Maeda) out for revenge

 

I suppose that, if I had to put my finger on the horror element in the first film, it’s the willingness of the “friends” to kill each other. This is not a group of strangers brought together like gladiators for an audience to cheer as they kill each other. This is a group that has grown up together in a classroom. They know each other. As a microcosm of the world, they have divided themselves into factions, grouped around stronger personalities. So when they are abandoned on the island, it’s like a family forced to turn on itself. Brother kills brother, sister kills surviving brother, and so on. The effect of the slaughter is to highlight the immorality of the state in putting these children in that position. Thematically, the sequel changes the focus and with it, loses the moral plot.

 

In the year this film was released, it was estimated that children were fighting as soldiers in most of the ongoing conflict situations around the world. That’s fighting both for and against governments. It’s just the luck of where they happen to be born and which side gets to recruit them first. In making heroes of children fighting in this film, I fear the film-makers have stepped over a line. It shows children fighting heroically and killing adult soldiers. This is an evil condemned by all civilised states. Using children for military purposes is considered the ultimately immoral act not only because it trains the innocent to be killers, but also because it forces adults to kill children in self-defence. When states only reluctantly send their women into battle, this is a film that glorifies children fighting against adults in an all-out war. In modern theatres of war, soldiers must now look on anything that moves as a potential threat. In the good old days of warfare, soldiers would kill the enemy men, rape their women and “save” the children. With today’s children carrying AK47s, the children are no longer waiting to be saved.

 

I’m open to be convinced by any point of view. Although instinctively I think child soldiers are victims to be pitied and, if possible, rehabilitated, the last thing I expected was a film turning such children into heroes. It’s all there. The martial music, the camera angles and general cinematography that dehumanises the adult enemies in battle, and so on. Worse, it shows the hard core warriors actively recruiting the naive children sent to kill them. By the end of the film, the newcomers are as heroic as their peers when it comes to killing the adult enemy. Perhaps I’m being a little naive in viewing the children as like a virus out to infect children around the world, inciting them to rise up and kill their oppressive parents and all other adults. I was waiting for the film-makers to condemn this. I hoped the ending would reset the moral compass so this alternate history version of Japan could find its way out of this internecine situation. Except what we get is implicit approval for continuing conflict and death. It’s all binary: black and white, adult and child, war and peace. Until everyone learns to compromise, how can anything be resolved? You would hope the adults would know better, that they would create a situation in which even these irrational children could be brought back into the human fold. Except adults in authority positions are not often forgiving. That leaves it to subordinates to decide on the ground, what the outcome should be. So maybe the only possibility is to wait it all out. As we live through winter, it may seem as though spring will never come. Yet, unless the winter is a post-apocalypse affair induced by nuclear fallout, spring always does come and with it, the possibility of a better place to live. Or maybe only death brings peace. Overall this means Battle Royale II: Requiem or Batoru rowaiaru tsū: Rekuiemu or (バトル・ロワイアルII is neither dull nor unexciting. Taken individually, some scenes match those from great examples of war films. But the morality of the military fiction we’re expected to find exciting makes the film offensive.

 

For a review of the first in the series, see Battle Royale or Batoru Rowaiaru, バトル・ロワイアル, 大逃殺 (2000)

 

Battle Royale or Batoru Rowaiaru, バトル・ロワイアル, 大逃殺 (2000)

April 2, 2013 4 comments

Battle Royale

The question to start us off is whether a state has any obligation to act rationally. It’s conventional to believe that democracy is one of man’s greatest achievements, enabling the people to listen to the arguments made by politicians, and then vote on who has the best solutions to current problems. The one(s) securing the most support then have a mandate to implement the solutions. Except this assumes all the competing points of view are rational, or that the rational groups seeking power have enough support. There are always cultural groups who take extreme positions. If they are in the majority, they win the elections and claim the right to impose their solutions on the minority. Because of this, dogmatic points of view can prevail until the next elections. If those opportunities to vote are separated by years, it allows the group in power to consolidate its grip and, if policing and military power is under their control, begin eliminating the minority.

The class receive their briefing

The class receive their briefing

 

Battle Royale or Batoru Rowaiaru, バトル・ロワイアル, 大逃殺 (2000) is based on a novel by Japanese writer Koushun Takami. It deals with the position of the least protected group. Although states always assert that the children have absolute protection under their laws, this assumes the adults consider the children worth protecting, i.e. there’s sufficient population growth. With no right to vote, children’s welfare is always at the whim of authority figures. This is an alternate history in which Japan has become part of the broader alliance calling itself the Republic of Greater East Asia. Suffice it to say, this is an authoritative regime that fears the possibility of rebellion. Feeling that the young are out of control, every year the government randomly selects a group of students from a single classroom. They are isolated on an island and encouraged to kill each other until only one survives. The intention is to use this annual selective cull as a warning of the power of the state to kill whenever it wishes and without having to justify itself. The selection of children for this purpose is intended to terrorise. Potential rebels are aware the selection of the annual group can always be manipulated to ensure their own children are included in the annual fight. Indeed, in this film, past winners are included in the current batch of victims to skew the outcome.

 

Insofar as there’s a primary character, it’s Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara). We start off in his school where things are not going well. His father has been unable to find work, feels useless and has committed suicide. This came as something of a shock and left our young man alienated. But, thanks to his best friend, Yoshitoki “Nobu” Kuninobu (Yukihiro Kotani), he begins a slow process of rehabilitation. As an indication not all is well in this society, Nobu attacks their class teacher Kitano (Takeshi Kitano) with a knife, but runs away before he can be identified. Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda) hides the knife and keeps the small group safe. Unfortunately, when the class is whisked away to the island to fight it out, Nobu is one of the first to fall. This leaves Nanahara and Noriko to try to survive.

Takeshi Kitano as the teacher whose class is selected

Takeshi Kitano as the teacher whose class is selected

 

The substance of this film is therefore an allegory, somewhat following in the footsteps of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. To make any society function, there’s a conflict between the need to co-operate and selfishness which fuels anarchy. There’s strength if otherwise weak individuals pool their resources, but individuals can quickly regress to a more primitive state in which their desire for power over each other simply results in the deaths of many. Obviously this film is different in theme because this island is not a paradise lost. It’s intended by the state to be the death of all but one. However, among the children, there’s still a very clear line of demarcation between the leaders and the led, and between those who want to co–operate to maximise their chances of survival, and those who form temporary alliances with a view to killing as many of the others as possible before they must turn on each other. Then the film considers all the reasons one person has to kill another. It can be for fun, or out of self-defence, in anger or out of love. If you look at the motives claimed for killing, everyone is capable of inventing their own justifications for taking the life of another.

 

When it comes to showing the killings, this is not a film that pulls its punches and it deserves an adults-only rating. However, it’s clearly distinguishable from films like the original Straw Dogs (1971) which portray violence as sadism or for more erotic purposes, i.e. in a rather more disturbing way. This is more a cinema vérité style, simply cataloguing each death as it occurs and showing the countdown to the ultimate winner as if in some reality game show. Some of the events are genuinely tragic as motives are misunderstood and fear prevails. Others show the possibility of hope for the individuals and, by extrapolation, for the human race. That despite all the chaos, some can rise to the occasion and show a certain nobility of purpose. As a final thought, because I prefer not to spoil the interest in watching how the drama unfolds: we can accept that the state itself will not bend in individual cases, but that does not deny the possibility that officers of the state cannot show compassion or perhaps merely a desire for it all to end. Perhaps in another life a teacher can reach out to a girl in the class and somehow inspire her to great things — or perhaps that’s the wrong way round — perhaps the girl persuades the teacher that not all youngsters are the same. Some may not deserve to die. Put all this together and Battle Royale or Batoru Rowaiaru, バトル・ロワイアル, 大逃殺 proves to be a fascinating and thoughtful film. I hesitate to say it’s exciting. That’s not its intention. But it certainly holds your attention as the deaths mount up.

 

For a review of the sequel, see Battle Royale II: Requiem or Batoru rowaiaru tsū: Rekuiemu or (バトル・ロワイアルII (2003)

 

Kaiji 2 or Jinsei dakkai gêmu (2011)

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the more interesting tropes for any art form to explore is the potential for dystopia as the income gap widens. If we turn back several centuries, we find societies which, at the top levels, we consider civilisations. Except the only reason they were able to function at that level of sophistication was because of the large contingent of slaves to do all the essential menial work. Coming up to more modern times, we substituted what’s now euphemistically called the working class for explicit slaves. These people were either indentured (effectively the same as slavery) or sold their labour for minimal wages (sometimes at insufficient rates to pay all the bills at the company stores). Only in the last hundred or so years have we seen some of the worst excesses of exploitation scaled back with “ordinary” people given more respect and a living wage. Yet, we can all tremble at the thought of what might happen if there’s a prolonged economic collapse.

Our heroes Tatsuya Fujiwara, Teruyuki Kagawa, Katsuhisa Namase and Yuriko Yoshitaka up against the Swamp

 

Suppose the world trading system breaks down and we repeat the Great Depression of the 1930s only finding it goes on indefinitely. How many people would fall so deeply into debt the only way they could possibly begin to pay it off would be by working for the lender for nothing more than food and accommodation? This would slowly recreate the old working practices of indenture and, in effect, restore the slave class.

 

Kaiji began life as a manga, also known as Ultimate Survivor Kaiji, written by Nobuyuki Fukumoto and, as is often the way with successful manga, it was then adapted as two anime series, Gyakkyō Burai Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor and Gyakkyō Burai Kaiji: Hakairoku-hen. As this latest title suggests, Kaiji 2 or Jinsei dakkai gêmu is the second live action film following the original manga story.

Yûsuke Iseya with some cash in hand

 

So in this alternate version of contemporary reality, we have a society where a slave class live and work in underground mines. If they can find enough money to pay off some of their debts, they can make it back to the surface but only for a limited time. Only if all their debts are repaid can they remain on the surface permanently. Not that life is any less unkind on the surface, you understand. Many are homeless and there’s little work. That makes it easy to fall back into debt and so qualify for working underground again. The majority live in despair and simply aim for survival with the least pain. But desperation drives many to gamble. For the lucky few who hit it big, there can be a better life. Except where do you find the biggest odds? Here we have an inversion of the old “bread and circuses” which used to keep the Roman mob entertained. Now there are death games for the entertainment of the bored and wealthy. Some will bet on who will survive. Others merely come to cheer on the winners. The largest corporation providing this entertainment is Teiai. It owns a number of gaming establishments where the death games can be organised. In the first live action film, Kaiji (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is induced into starting to play for maximum returns by Rinko Endo (Yûki Amami). In the end, he manages to survive the games (all of which are rigged to produce the maximum number of losers) but, by the time we start this second episode, he’s back underground. By exposing a fraud, he’s able to put together enough money to buy himself out of the underground for a few days. With a small amount of cash, he needs to win big to pay off not only his own debt, but also the debts of everyone who clubbed together to buy him out. Primed to meet him by Teiai, Tonegawa (Teruyuki Kagawa) directs him to a casino with a game big enough to win all the money he needs to free his friends.

 

The pit boss of the casino is Seiya Ichijo (Yûsuke Iseya). This old building has an underground entertainment arena where gamblers may be torn to pieces by wild animals if they guess wrong, and on a higher floor, a massive Pachinko machine called the Swamp (possibly because everyone’s hopes get sucked down into the mire). On his first visit to the casino, Kaiji meets Kotaro Sakazaki (Katsuhisa Namase). He’s a naive but determined construction engineer who’s spent considerable time and effort working out how to beat the Swamp. Trying to get inside information, he recruited Yumi Ishida (Yuriko Yoshitaka). When Kaiji meets her, he realises she’s the daughter of one of the men he befriended in the first episode, but who fell to his death. She works in the casino and is able to supply important information about the rotation schedule for the different sets of traps in the Swamp. Tonegawa has also been working on a possible way to beat the machine but, like the others, he needs Kaiji’s skills to work out the optimum way of beating the unbeatable machine.

The Princess (Yuriko Yoshitaka) or the lion

 

There’s a lot to like about this film. It’s a pleasing dystopian parable about the relationship between the rich and the poor with strong performances from Tatsuya Fujiwara and Teruyuki Kagawa. Yûsuke Iseya is somewhat melodramatic but this has a useful comic quality, and both Katsuhisa Namase and Yuriko Yoshitaka make the best of the supporting parts. Nevertheless, there’s a problem with the script and direction. The director, Tôya Satô, working from a script written by the original manga author Nobuyuki Fukumoto, fails to show consistent discipline in telling the story. As a result, the film overruns by about fifteen minutes, i.e. it should have stopped at two hours. The central sequences are particularly badly affected as our four “conspirators” confront the Swamp and watch all their strategies work their way through against the suspected countermeasures. Frankly, this just gets tedious, which is a shame because most of the rest of the film is told with reasonable economy and not a little wit. Indeed, there are some genuine laugh-out-loud moments.

 

So, overall, Kaiji 2 or Jinsei dakkai gêmu is worth seeing, not just by the fans of the original manga and anime, but also by “ordinary filmgoers”. If it has a message it’s that everyone can be relied on to be acting in their own best interests, but the real winners are those who can make friends. Indeed, if you have friends, who needs money?

 

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