Friday, January 22, 2010
REVIEW: Never Give Up
野性の証明 (Yasei no shômei)
Running time: 143 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
A half hour into Junya Sato's "Never Give Up", we've seen a special forces boot camp, an attack on revolutionaries via hang gliders, a crazed mass killing in a small village, a murdered newspaper reporter, crooked cops, an orphaned little girl, corrupt politicians, contaminated crops due to industrialization and a crime syndicate boss who pretty much owns the region. Every time you think the story may be settling in, it spins out another direction. That's not necessarily bad though - given some of the silliness of the beginning (the hand gliders swoop down on the revolutionary gang standing on a roof without them noticing), it's good to know that you can accept that things won't be overly realistic and sit back and enjoy the constantly moving plot.
One of the people massacred in that small mountain village was a woman who just happened to be hiking through the area. We briefly meet her sister as she identifies the corpse and then again as the story jumps forward a year. Tomoko is a newspaper reporter and begins investigating the death of a fellow journalist. His car accident feels wrong to her and the lead detective is a bit too eager to close the case. The other person in the car was the wife of Izaki, a member of a local crime syndicate, and he is quick to try collect the insurance. Her body has yet to be found, though, so insurance investigator Ajisawa is pressing for more time to verify the death. During his own investigation, he stumbles across Tomoko being surrounded by a motorcycle gang with ties to the crime syndicate. He jumps in to rescue her and is fiercely beaten by the gang - but they can't keep him down. He takes the punishment and stands back up every time until they eventually are too spooked to continue and run away. We've already learned he was a member of a secret Special Forces division of the military and he has been trained to never, ever, give up in a fight. Tomoko goes to his hospital room the next day to thank him and finds his "daughter" there. Yoriko is actually the same young girl who was the sole survivor of the village attack and she is recognized by the sole remaining detective on the case - the only uncorruptible man on the force it seems.
Ajisawa is now a prime suspect in the village attack (especially when they learn that Tomoko's sister was the hiker that was killed) and the detective begins to dig. Even though the case is closed, the Special Forces leaders are none too pleased that snooping is occurring and fear that someone may uncover the real reason for Ajisawa's discharge. They also fear being held publicly accountable as this might interfere with plans they have with the Nakado Group (the crime syndicate). The reservoir construction near the car accident is being handled by Nakado and it has bought up all the surrounding land (including the small village) for cheap. The corruption is rampant - Izaki actually gets counselled by the police as to what they can easily ignore as far as faked accidents go, Tomoko's parents were killed by a truck from the construction company owned by Nakado, Ajisawa is almost run over by one of these same trucks, etc. Tomoko obviously has some additional reasons for wanting to expose the crime syndicate due to her parents' death. Her father had previously owned the local newspaper and decided to enter politics by running against a syndicate member. The syndicate didn't take kindly to that and so there was an "accident". Meanwhile, it's discovered that Yoriko had been able to sense that Ajisawa was about to be run over by that truck. It appears that the shock of the village attacks has actually left her with some kind of extra-sensory perception.
I could probably go on for another couple of pages describing the detailed plot (and I've already skipped numerous things), but that would spoil the fun of it. If I've belaboured the story for too much of the review, it's only because it is the main draw of the film. Many of the connections are laid out within that first chunk of the film, but new ones keep popping up. It keeps you watching to see where and when the next ones will occur. The pace is quick too - for an almost 2 and a half hour movie, it doesn't really feel like it. Having said that, it really does warrant some trimming since several scenes go on longer than necessary and the final battle with Ajisawa is actually quite ludicrous (yes, even more than the hang gliders were). All other facets of the filmmaking (acting, cinematography, script, etc.) are quite good, though it drops the ball a bit with the music - there's a tendency towards the over-melodramatic in several scenes. There's rarely a moment in the film when you're not engaged in the plot machinations, though, and in the end it all makes for a solid thriller.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.