Friday, September 3, 2010
REVIEW: Detective Story
捕物帳 (Tantei Monogatari)
Running time: 99 min.
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
When I cued up Takashi Miike's 2007 film "Detective Story", I was exceptionally tired. I thought I would kick it off, maybe watch half an hour or so just to get the feel of it and then watch it all the next evening. I was even more tired than expected I guess as I started drifiting off to sleep several times early on and ended up only getting fractured bits of the story and characters. So of course, I shut it off and came back the next day to restart it. It was then that I realized it wasn't necessarily my occasional snoozing that made the movie seem choppy - it was the movie itself. Several different characters that, except for a one way phone call between two of them, seem to have nothing to do with each other zoom past in the first few minutes. It's disorienting, confusing and, because Miike has a certain way with framing and cutting his scenes, pretty damn engrossing. Especially if you've got a good night's sleep under your belt.
At the root of the story is famous artist Yuki Aoyama whose paintings and artwork show all kinds of mutilations, body parts and other assorted grotesqueries reconfigured into new images. Several female fans end up dead in rather gory fashion - each one missing a specific organ and associated to one of Mother Nature's elements (water, air, earth, fire). Detective Raita Kazama stumbles into the case after one of these women visits him in fear for her life just before she is murdered. Raita has his own detective agency, a rather strained relationship with the police (with whom he becomes a suspect very quickly) and has a new neighbour in his apartment building who also happens to be named Raita. Though they share little else except for the monicker, detective Raita continues to force himself into IT professional Raita's life. All this happens while the detective's associates become more deeply involved in the case, Raita hides from the police and the next Aoyama masterpiece is being created.
The story is fine and involving, but it's not really the main draw of the film. Miike is playing with the form and the function of movies - even more so than he usually does. His characters look straight into the camera, absurd actions are taken simply to move the plot forward and indications abound that something is not quite right. From scene to scene, new techniques are used to attempt to convey different moods or pieces of information. An interrogation scene receives clipped editing to indicate how the cops are trying to circle around Raita, the camera focuses on inconsequential details to show a character's loss of concentration, squawking music overlays the soundtrack to induce irritation, etc. You can't help but wonder sometimes whether Miike is playing things very fast and loose on set - "Hey, you know what we should try?" - but, even though not everything works, I'm kind of thrilled with the results as he is constantly trying out new methods to push his filmmaking forward. It particularly works well in a movie such as "Detective Story" where just about everything might be up for grabs. The resolution of the murder plot is, in the end, less surprising than many of the surrounding events.
There's plenty of blood throughout the film - some of it in fairly disgusting close-up while being used as fodder for the artist's work - but all of the potentially goriest scenes (ie. the mutilated bodies of the victims) had the camera lens smeared out to blur the missing organs. That's not a complaint, but certainly a surprise at first since it's not like Miike has shied away from gore in his past. Whether it was done after the fact or purposely to bring attention to censorship is almost beside the point - it's pretty obvious and speaks for itself. It fits nicely into the rest of this rather warped mix of absurdity, gore, suspense, humour (Kazuya Nakayama is very funny as Raita the detective) and self-reflexivity. That latter characteristic is pervasive - whether it's the broad facial expressions of some of the characters that show they are in on the game or the occasional use of technique for technique's sake - and only adds to this particular detective's story.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.