Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The devil's path

WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

“Journalist Shuichi Fujii receives a letter from convicted killer Junji Sudo. Writing from death row, Sudo wants to confess to crimes unknown to the police. Visiting Sudo in prison, Fujii learns about "Doc" who masterminded a string of murders. Set up by Doc, Sudo seeks revenge and implores Fujii to find the evidence needed to arrest his former boss. Working from Sudo's sketchy memories, Fujii begins to piece together a grizzly tale of extortion, torture, rape, and arson. But as his desire to see Doc brought to justice nears a climax, he runs into resistance from unexpected sources.” (Festival's Program)

This investigative journalism movie is based on a true story that was first published in Shinchosha's Shinchō 45 [lit. “mass market 45”] monthly magazine. That magazine started in 1982 as a health and living magazine for the 45+ years-old, but evolved first into a biographical magazine in 1985 and then, in 2001, into a crime stories, scandals & gossips magazine aimed at a female readership in their 30s and 40s, to finally become a general interest magazine in 2008. The whole story was republished as a nonfiction novel titled 「凶悪―ある死刑囚の告発―」[Kyoaku: Aru Shikeishuu no Kokuhatsu / lit. “Heinous: Accusation of a condemned”], written by the editorial staff of the magazine (Tokyo, Shinchosha, october 2009. 386 pages, ¥ 580, ISBN 978-4101239187). Of course, the movie is a fictionalized adaptation, so some names and events might have been changed.

Fujii is a reporter at the Shinchō 45 magazine. He is asked by his editor to investigate a letter received by the magazine from a death-row inmate. He goes to prison and interview the inmate, a gangster named Sudo who wants to confess of three murders that the police don't even know about. Having converted to christianism in prison, he wants to atone for his crimes and give his victims peace by telling the truth about those unknown murders. He also wants revenge against his former boss, who's the mastermind behind the murders. He feels its unfair that he is on death-row and his boss has not even been accused of anything. Since his boss has abandoned him and tricked him into killing his trusted right-hand man, he also feels betrayed. The boss is simply known as “Doc” [Sensei] or, as he commits murder to profit from land speculation and insurance fraud, the “death alchemist” (because he transform people's death into gold). However, Fujii's editor don't think that such ordinary crimes would interest their readership and orders him to move to another investigation.

Even if he is skeptical that a death-row inmate would tell the truth, Fujii doesn't want to let go of his investigation just yet. He visits the crime scenes, interviews all possible suspects and witnesses and soon realizes that Sudo's confession is genuine! He even finds out Doc's identity: he is named Kimura [actually Sudo and Kimura real names are Goto Ryoji and Mikami Shizuo]. It is a difficult investigation, because Kimura covered his tracks well and there's little evidences. He succeeds to convince his editor to publish the story. Eventually the police starts investigating, makes accusations and put Kimura to trial.

The movie offers us three different stories: Fujii's investigation, the unfolding of events as told by Sudo, but also the personnal toll that the investigation takes on Fujii and his family. He is so obsessed with the investigation that he neglect his wife and she eventually asks for divorce. However, what's the message that director Kazuya Shiraishi want to tell us? Does he simply want to us to be aware of this rather trivial true crime story? Does he want to emphasize the human drama behind such ordinary news item? It's not clear. To tell the truth this movie is a rather typical and quite ordinary journalistic crime investigation movie. The acting is good, the story itself is intriguing and interesting, but the storytelling and even the photography are quite dull. So, once again, a rather average movie for this year's festival (and again Japanese movies don't seems to attrack much attention since this 350-seat theatre had only a 15% occupancy for this showing).

Kyoaku ( 凶悪 / lit. “hainous” / The Devil's Path ): Japan, 2013, 128 min.; Dir.: Kazuya Shiraishi; Scr.: Kazuya Shiraishi & Izumi Takahashi (based on a non-fiction novel); Phot.: Takahiro Imai; Ed.: Hitomi Kato; Mus.: Goro Yasukawa; Cast: Takayuki Yamada (Shuichi Fujii), Lily Franky (“Doc” aka Kimura), Chizuru Ikewaki, Pierre Taki (Junji Sudo). Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival August 25th, 2013 (Cinema Quartier Latin 9, 16h20) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” segment.
For more information you can visit the following websites:
The Devil's Path © 2013 “The Devil's Path” Film Partners.

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