Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nobody to Watch Over Me (Dare Mo Mamotte Kurenai)

Coming Through

For all its orderliness and politeness in Japanese society, if what Nobody to Watch Over Me portrayed is accurate, then there's the other side of the same society that we on the outside would seldom see, and that's how they would react to serious crimes committed by minors. While you would expect identities to be kept secret in order to aid in the investigations and to offer some protection to the perpetrator and/or the victims, there's this constant digging to fish information in order to inform, ridicule and condemn, and compromise any police protection programme.

Things like family honour might sound strange to some, but as the opening prologue explained, in a proud society where "face" is of a premium, family members may feel compelled to commit suicide in order to atone for, and apologize to the victims and the general public for gross misdemeanour of fellow members. Or in fact, it is expected by society at large which doesn't exactly subscribe to the mantra of innocent until proven guilty, or debunk guilt by association. They're likely to bay for blood and expecting everyone related to be hung out to dry.

Hence covert operations carried out by the police to assign cops to family members, not only to protect them from those looking to exact revenge, but to prevent them from hurting themselves as well. Such is the pressure, and the shame, and eyebrows would be raised when you realize that changes to identities such as Family Names, are made legal, and on the spot, amongst splitting everyone up to throw the media off their tracks.

The film's initial minutes are sheer brilliance, in setting up a confused state and a whirlwind of disbelief swarming the family members of the accused. The parents in a state of shock, and cannot believe the media circus already passing judgement just outside their doorstep, and their home filled with cops eager to ask questions, and bureaucrats pushing their paper to get the administrative requirements out of the way.

Storywise, it's deceptively simple like another version of The Bodyguard, with detective Katsura (Koichi Sato) assigned to protect his charge, the 15 year old student Saori Funamura (Mirai Shida), whose brother was arrested for the senseless murder of 2 young girls. The two don't hit it off instantly, given that they're on opposites, one resenting the case as being in the way of his own family vacation and reconciliation with his estranged (and offscreen) wife, while the other just doesn't trust cops because of the way they conduct themselves in that one confusing night.

You would expect them to bond at some point, but this long and arduous journey to regain trust is one of the highlights of the film. The main characters are flawed in their own ways, with Katsura harbouring some aged old guilt which he tries to exorcise and redeem himself with this assignment, while Saori has this albatross hanging around her neck on her guilt in the investigations. But both actors Koichi Sato and Mirai Shida have excellent chemistry as surrogate father and child, with the latter at her best when she utilizes her icy glares to flesh out that perfect emotion of contempt.

But the film is rich enough and made plenty of room to explore other thematic elements as well. Additional situations the characters get put in bring out so much of their personality, espcially when they converge at a ocean-facing B&B inn, where themes of forgiveness and to find strength in moving on, rather than crying over spilt milk, become gentle reminders on the need not to bear grudges, which is an extremely tough practice.

Director/writer Ryoichi Kimizuka, with his background on the Bayside Shakedown series, also couldn't resist not adding elements such as police bureaucracy, public perception of their ineptness and political games into the picture, albeit only slightly touched upon, and putting Katusra in sympathetic light too. Some of their processes will undoubtedly cause you to roll your eyes in disbelief, where on one hand they preach the need to protect identities, while on the other just acting in direct contradiction of orders, intent and objectives, such as walking out in the open, and letting the mark get out of sight.

The other element that ran wild here, is Kimizuka's statement on the proliferation of information in the internet age, where netizens tend to mouth off under the guise of anonymity, and make victims out of innocent parties through their very quick display of condemnation. With the traditional media offering the other perspective of a relatively more measured and reasonable approach, it soon became a glaring press versus internet debate raging, where speed of information flow is of the essence, and the lengths anyone would go to make their message heard.

Nobody to Watch Over Me is an powerful two hours of drama that will engage you from the get go, sometimes even making you feel exasperated by the way society behaves, and how the police force took things easy and for granted. It goes without saying that this film also stands a striking chance to be amongst one of the best I've seen this year.

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