Shield of Straw
Starring: Takao Osawa, Nanako Matsushima, Tatsuya Fujiwara
Director: Takashi Miike
Category: IIB (Japanese)
Over the course of his career, Takashi Miike has made family-friendly films such as Ninja Kids and Yatterman. But the prolific Japanese director is best known for category III-rated shockers such as Audition and Ichi the Killer. So it stands to reason that viewers of Shield of Straw would expect his adaptation of manga artist Kazuhiro Kiuchi's best-selling crime novel to have its share of extreme moments.
But while the work provoked a number of walkouts when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, it wasn't because the police action-thriller is too violent. Instead, this Warner Brothers Japan production is disappointingly mild for a Miike movie, especially since it has a plot that would appear ripe for a no-holds barred visual treatment.
After evil rapist and killer Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara) makes a seven-year-old girl his latest victim, her financial tycoon grandfather, Ninagawa Tagaoki (Tsutomu Yamazaki), declares open season on her killer by putting a billion yen bounty on his head. Realising that he's now the country's most wanted man, Kiyomaru surrenders to the police in Fukuoka.
Five police officers, including police lieutenant Kazuki Mekari (Takao Osawa) and sergeant Atsuko Shiraiwa (Nanako Matsushima), are tasked with transporting Kiyomaru safely to stand trial in Tokyo, just over 1,000 kilometres away.
After a policeman at the Fukuoka station attempts to kill Kiyomaru to claim the reward, the realisation dawns that the biggest threat to Kiyomaru's life may come from inside their ranks. There's also a mole in their midst who's making their every move known.
The attempts on Kiyomaru's life are more spread out than might be expected, and there are too many discussions about why good cops should be prepared to sacrifice themselves to protect an unrepentant scumbag. But much of Shield of Straw is watchable, and it's even effectively suspenseful at times.
There are a few set pieces - one of them involving a large convoy of police vehicles on a highway, another involving a shootout on a train - that are well designed and staged.
But the film stumbles badly in its final stages when logic is thrown out of the window in favour of overblown sentiment and some overly dramatic flourishes.
It doesn't help that the villain and the female cop end up behaving true to stereotype, and contribute to a conclusion that is just too drawn out and predictable to be satisfying.
Shield of Straw opens on September 5