Movie Preview: Wara no Tate

Straw_Shield

Title: Wara no Tate (Straw Shield) | Official site

Starring: Osawa Takao, Matsushima Nanako and Fujiwara Tatsuya

Director: Miike Takashi

First things first: How many of you looked at the poster above and thought: ‘That’s Nanako Matsushima? Who thought letting her wear a mop as a wig was a good idea?’ 

What is this movie about? 

Tatsuya Fujiwara plays Kiyomaru “Scum of the Earth” Kunihide, a child murderer who finds himself the most wanted man in town after he makes the dumbass decision of killing the granddaughter of one of Japan’s most powerful men.

Fed-up with the incompetent police, Grandpa places an ad in the papers offering anyone who can bring him Kiyomaru’s head one billion yen. Rid the world of a scumbag and retire in the lap of luxury — sounds like a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. Obviously, the whole of Japan agrees because Kiyomaru soon finds himself at the top of everyone’s shit list.

Fearing for his life, he turns himself over to the police in Fukuoka and five elite security agents led by Mekari Kazuki (Osawa Takao) and Shiraiwa Atsuko (Matsushima) are tasked with escorting his sorry ass back to Tokyo. Kazuki is conflicted about this assignment — why waste taxpayers’ money keeping this waste of space alive? His partner on the other hand has a more philosophical attitude about the whole concept of justice. Should criminals not be allowed state protection as well? [More details here.]

This being a Miike movie, we can all assume that this ain’t going to be a cakewalk. Question is: how high is the body count going to be?

Watch the trailer:

First Impressions: I was surprised when I found out that Matsushima had been cast in Wara no Tate because she isn’t the first person who comes to mind when I think of a Miike movie and I thought she was basically going to do the same thing she did in Lucky 7 (i.e. sit in an office and look glamorous.) Hence my surprise when I saw her shooting a gun and kicking open doors in the trailer.

I don’t know about you but if I were Japan’s most wanted man, I wouldn’t feel very secure under her protection. She looks like the wind could blow her away at any moment and her kicks don’t look like they can cause much pain either. Let’s hope she’s an extremely sharp shooter and that her other three colleagues aren’t in the movie just to serve as ammunition fodder (let’s face it, this is Miike we’re talking about.) Maybe there’s something the trailer isn’t showing us but right now, I think she’s a very curious choice for this role. If it were up to me, I’d have gone with someone like Amami Yuki, who’d be more convincing as an elite agent, or even Kikuchi Rinko if you want to go with a less mainstream choice. (On a side note, compared to South Korea and China, I think the Japanese film industry is at a disadvantage when it comes to casting actresses in action movies. Apart from a select few, there aren’t many who can kick physical ass convincingly. Maybe it’s because action heroines go against the whole yamato nadeshiko ideal?)

tnw_atsuko

I’m sure Miike has his own reasons for casting Matsushima but I have never found her to be a strong dramatic actress despite what the ratings of her shows might suggest and often feel that she’s someone who has cultivated a cult-like popularity with her elegant image and not so much her acting abilities (though the two often mean the same thing in certain quarters.)

The pared-down look that she’s sporting here may be part of her attempt at playing against type and I’ll admit that while I am watching this for Osawa, it’s Matsushima’s character that I will be paying attention to. Whether Atsuko proves to be a memorable role will depend not just on her performance but also on the writing and this is another iffy area where Miike is concerned because while he may be famous for many things, his portrayal of women isn’t exactly what anyone would describe as progressive.

Regarding the rest of the cast, I don’t know much about Fujiwara to comment. The only shows I’ve seen him in are Battle Royale and Oji-san wa 25-sai and I sure as hell wasn’t watching either of them for him. (Actually, if I hadn’t looked him up on DramaWiki, I wouldn’t have known that that was him in Battle Royale.) I’d like to see how he’s going to plumb the depths of his character — sure, Kiyomaru is twisted and depraved but is that all there is to him?

kiyomaru

As for Osawa, if that scene of Kazuki shoving a gun into Kiyomaru’s mouth in the trailer is anything to go by, it looks like his character’s conflicting feelings regarding his assignment will play a pivotal role in this movie. The only show I’ve ever watched him in is JIN (and not going to lie — I loved him in that drama though the sequel is an entirely separate issue) and I’m curious to see how he’s going to tackle a much darker role that might see him turning into the monster that he despises. (ETA: I just noticed that he’s wearing a wedding band in the screencap below. I wonder if his character has any kids in the movie. If so, then it’s pretty clear where this story is going.)

kazuki_wnt

Wara no Tate is based on the debut novel by Kiuchi Kazuhiro (of Be-Bop High School fame) and I’m intrigued by the moral and ethical dilemmas presented by the story. I wouldn’t really call myself a Miike fan but I’m definitely looking forward to this one. Let’s hope that the thematic conflicts are given enough thought in the script and not just presented as a mere preamble for 40 minutes of explosive entrail-dripping blood-soaked carnage.

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2 comments

  1. Will this movie ever get subbed? The trailer is explosive! And hey its Nanako Matsushima, Takao Osawa and Tatsuya Fujiwara, I don’t need another reason to watch this.

    1. Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it not getting subbed. Miike’s movies almost always get picked up for international release :D

      April is looking pretty good for J-movies with this and *cough* Hentai Kamen being released in the same month…

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