Crime Or Punishment?!? (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Third Window Films) Running Time: 111 minutes approx.
Aspiring model Ayame Enjoji (Riko Narumi) is having a run if bad luck. First she is distraught to see her photo published upside down in a new magazine then inadvertently runs off with said publication, to be forced, as penance, to be acting police chief for the day – a role she does not relish one little bit. Compounding matter is Ayame’s ex-boyfriend Haruki Onda (Kento Nagayama), a serial killer who once tried to kill Ayame, is one of the officers she must preside over. Meanwhile a trio of bungling robbers – Marie (Megumi Okina), Tatemoto (Koji Okura) and Suezumi (Hajime Yamazaki) – make a bungled attempt to rob a local convenience store but get away with two hostages – rival model Momo Mimikawa (Sakura Ando) and their agent Ryoko Kazama (Inuko Inuyama). With the entire police force at her disposal, it is time for Ayame to try and finally make a success of something.
While Japanese cinema is noted to the masses for its rubber monster movies and samurai epics, real aficionados will know they do a mean line in offbeat, esoteric comedies and this effort from the very un-Japanese sounding Keralino Sandorovich aka Kera (real name Kazumi Kobayashi) fits very neatly into this category. It’s a blend of Kera’s own quirky vision with some Python-esque lunacy – such as a Freud like character suddenly appearing to explain Haruki’s psychological penchant for killing. The humour ranges from the occasionally puerile to the laugh out loud funny with some offbeat moments where one isn’t so sure if it is meant to be funny or not. Pretty much all of the bases are covered so if one joke doesn’t grab you, another will be along shortly which might.
As the above outline suggests, the story has some zany elements to it and the execution adds to this with everything appearing to be incredibly random due to the non-linear narrative, hinting at a disjointed portmanteau movie. We literally jump without warning between time frames and situations which threatens to confuse the viewer rather than entertain, but slowly it all comes together by the end. There is much which seems irrelevant upon first appearance but eventually their place in the story is justified. The film begins with the diverting story of an office worker named Goro Kato (Yasunori Danda) who has designs on a pretty young shop assistant (Yui Ichikawa) and buys whatever rubbish she picks out for him. He is returning home when the body of Rena Kanai (Eriko Sato) suddenly falls from a great height onto the pavement before him. Kato spots a bloodied Haruki on a balcony above but before he can do anything Kato is knocked down by a van. Which is where we first meet Ayame at this point a simple bystander.
If the premise of a model becoming a police chief sounds a little crazy, the truth is that in Japan this is a genuine arrangement, although largely a publicity stunt. Usually to raise the profile of some up and coming starlet the superficial title of Police Chief is awarded to said celeb for the day, but they don’t end up literally running the force as Ayame does, just some meagre public relation exercises. Thank god. Could you imagine if they did that over here and someone like Katie Price was put in charge of Scotland Yard? Ugh! At least Kera has the awareness to make sure Ayame agrees it is an absurdity that she is given such powers but it does give her the feelgood ending she has been looking for.
The only weakness of the tale is the lack of focus on Haruki’s serial killing and why neither Ayame nor the deputy police chief want Haruki to turn himself in. This is one concept which incredible potential given that Haruki’s ex-girlfriend/one time victim is now his boss while he still kills yet it remains unexplored in favour of recounting Ayame’s constant public humiliation over the upside down magazine photo.
In the lead role as Ayame, Riko Narumi is a charming and pretty girl whose best moments are set before the police chief gig arises, which shows her true comedic abilities. Unfortunately, sharing the screen with genuine former models Yui Ichikawa and Eriko Sato means she is somewhat overshadowed in the pulchritude stakes, much like how Ayame is by Momo in the story. Speaking of whom, hard faced Sakura Ando seems woefully miscast as glamour puss Momo yet she manages not just to pull off the role but look sexy to boot, reaffirming her credentials as one of the more versatile young actresses in Japan today. Kento Nagayama as Haruki is too much of a bland pretty boy to be an effective serial killer while the rest of the male actors ham it up in their supporting roles. Keen eyed viewers might want to keep an eye out for a cameo from Kumiko Aso as a spaced out hippy in the killer truck.
If you can keep up with the haphazard narrative Crime Or Punishment?!? will reward you with another interesting screwy black comedy as only the Japanese can deliver.
45 Minute “Making Of” feature
Segment from the stage version of “Crime Or Punishment”
Third Window Films Trailers
Rating – ***
Man In Black