Keizoku: Unsolved Cases - Beautiful Dreamer Review
Jun Shibata (Miki Nakatani) has a good head on her shoulders, despite the fact that she’s more than a little odd. Having graduated top of her class at Tokyo University she was immediately drafted in at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force, more specifically Section One’s Keizoku dept. The Keizoku subsection deals with cases that are tagged unsolvable by all other departments. The only guy who seems to entertain these cases is Tooru Mayama (Atsuro Watabe) - a tough, cynical cop with a bit of a chip on his shoulder - but even he is bored rigid, knowing that he’s wasting his time. But all that changed when Shibata entered his life and proved that she was an ace detective. With her skills as a super sleuth and his experience in the field they form a unique partnership and attempt to solve the most impossible of crimes. Throughout the series we’d witness comedy and personal tragedy, tricks, twists, turns, murder, mystery and much more…
…Of course, nobody would know half of that going solely on the purchase of Keizoku: Unsolved Mysteries – Beautiful Dreamer
Things pick up with Shibata receiving a promotion when subsection chief Koutarou Nonomura (Ryu Raita) is forced to step down on account of his poor output. Matters aren’t helped when Nonomura is currently fighting a divorce settlement, as well as trying to juggle his romantic relationship with a young school girl. Shortly after Shibata settles into her new role the Keizoku dept receives a new case. An elderly woman by the name of Isoyama approaches them, seeking help. She was one of seven survivors out of nine in the fatal 1985 sinking of the luxury liner “Jinryumaru #7”, which was on a direct route to Yakujin Island. The island’s surrounds carries with it a legend, one that sees them being referred to as the Japanese Bermuda Triangle, having swallowed 33 ships in the past 75 years and dealt heavy blows to passing aircraft. Isoyama had recently received a letter from a young woman called Nanami Kirishima (Koyuki), the daughter of the two victims who never made it out alive on that fateful day. She wishes to thank Isoyama and the rest of the survivors and those who helped in the investigation by hosting for them at her mansion located on Yakujin Island. But Isoyama’s daughter Shoko (Nanako Ohkochi) is highly concerned over the intents of Kirishima and asks the Keizoku team to accompany her to the island. A trip across the ocean suits Shibata fine, and sure enough she ends up leading the pack with Mayama by her side. But the trip isn’t all pleasantries; they soon meet the other survivors, who turn out to be an eccentric bunch of various social standings. Now the real mystery is about to begin.
Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, who had been primarily responsible for television series and music videos prior, Keizoku shares more in common - sometimes scarily so - with his 2002 TRICK movie (he also directed a sequel for 2006), and its deservedly successful comedy/mystery/drama series which began in 2000 - one year post Keizoku’s TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) success. In fact the Keizoku movie, released in 2000 became a huge box-office success in its home land, such is often the case with TV shows in Japan that draw in massive, invested crowds and manage to outgun major blockbusters. But unlike the TRICK and even Bayside Shakedown movies Keizoku fails to work remotely as well as a stand alone piece. It’s far too inclined toward its heavy back-story which took place across eleven episodes and one special (Phantom - also directed by Tsutsumi) in 1999. Frankly there’s nothing wrong with that at all; it’s clearly there to please fans, to answer questions and tidy up loose ends. There’s little need to give background information on certain characters and events because audiences should already know that stuff, at least in Japan. It’s curious then as to why the movie has been licensed overseas and subsequently miss-marketed as a “dark mystery thriller with surrealist overtones”. Indeed Keizoku shares all of those elements, but it’s obviously a misunderstood piece of work, primarily because it’s a delliberate and unrestrained abstract comedy in which anything goes. That’s not to say that it doesn’t offer enough in the way of moody drama, but Keizoku is so outrageous that it often falls into parody. You name it, from the likes of famous novels involving Sherlock Holmes or those penned by Christie, to classic and contemporary cinema which is just so ripe for picking (including a blatant TITANIC riff). It’s a bizarre thing to witness, with influences worn clearly on its sleeve, including some David Lynch references, which would also see this as the equivalent of Fire Walk with Me in terms of movie spin-offs, in addition to some startling Argento-like nods. If anything its surreal-ness is spread right across the board and covers various genre elements effectively enough. This ensures then that Keizoku has far more to it than meets the eye. For goodness sake, there’s even a scene in which a distraught wife tries to flee with her husband’s severed head, but not before two police officers have fumbled about with it - Rugby style - in trying to keep it away from her. There’s also a scene involving missing panties, which has to be part of any respectable Japanese show.
The film begins relatively simple though. We join Shibata and Mayama as they get to work. We can understand that Shibata now has a promotion and everything progresses quickly and efficiently as their next big case is set up, but not before we get a glimpse into the personal life of former Subsection Chief Nonomura and his love for a schoolgirl. From here we travel with them to a practically deserted island, where they are to stay at a fancy castle with several guests. It becomes the classic murder mystery weekend in which the guests are bumped off one by one, but the twist is that the killer readily identifies them self and the real trick is to prove the killer and solve the case when there’s no apparent evidence to speak of. And so Tsutsumi follows set piece with set piece and all the while things progressively get more and more bizarre due to several elaborately staged scenarios, which ordinarily would make us question the unlikelihood of it all, but “fuck it” seems to be the general attitude here.
So for the most part Keizoku works well when focused on the mystery portion of the film, which is a solid 90 minutes, aside from some slight references to past happenings in the TV series. There are far too many well-established characters in Keizoku and Yukihiko Tsutsumi tries his hardest to accommodate all of them, yet it becomes clear that there just isn’t enough time to carry everything through until the bitter end. As such we see certain important players eventually tossed into the background, such as Nonomura, while understandably the main bulk focuses on Shibata and Mayama and their seemingly blossoming relationship. But there’s a set goal here, undermined by a lengthy investigation, which is meant to bring closure by bringing back characters from the past, such as the mysterious Asakura (Masahiro Takagi) and officer Tsubosaka (Shigeru Izumiya) who obviously share a torrid history, and judging character reactions are a shock in their resurrected state: we see the film open with a flashback of Asakura and Tsubosaka presumably dying in a massive blast. Much of what goes on in Keizoku in relation to its story arc takes on form merely in passing comments, certainly nothing insightful enough for those unversed to understand; there’s only so much the viewer can figure out for themselves before wondering what the hell is going on. This rings particularly true during the final thirty minutes when things take an extremely dramatic turn, as characters face their destiny in a climactic spiritual showdown, backed by a sudden light and jazzy score. It’s almost as if we’re then watching two separate films, like suddenly the writers remember that they have a job to finish and therefore need to squeeze in as much as possible and resolve a long and difficult back story. The film then becomes a surreal and disorienting experience, albeit effectively staged with much dramatic weight and tension. Its spiritual overtones burst forth when we’re suddenly presented with its mystical angle, where The Gates of Hades open up to our protagonists so that they may communicate with dead loved ones: Mayama and his sister Saori and Shibata with her biological father. Granted, it’s a lot to take it and certainly does enough to throw the viewer as these people reach some sort of catharsis.
There’s no doubt, however, that Keizoku is a good looking film. Tsutsumi is certainly a director with a distinct style; he uses off kilter compositions, tight framing and several unique perspectives to enliven his mystery setting. Sure enough he puts his music video experience to good use as quite often we get a nice sense of movement and quick-fire cutting. He keeps the film manic throughout and even when little is required of the scene, say a simple interior shot, he manages to give it an extra lift. Keizoku is also strangely beautiful and as I touched upon earlier it has far grander/artier leanings. There are some compelling moments here and there, not least of which is the character of young Miyabi, whose face is strategically hidden at all times, save for subliminal cut, which appears to have been designed as some kind of bizarre gag against protecting the identities of young schoolgirls or something. It still retains the feel of a television production and doesn’t try to ever match big budget heights, staying quite intimate, though stylish all the same.
As far as performances go they’re universally good. We have an incredibly solid cast here from notable character actors to seasoned veterans, though it must be pointed out these people are playing familiar caricatures and totally embrace some of the more clichéd aspects of their parts. Faces such as Katsuhita Namase and Raita Ryu inject a lot of fun into their roles, the latter being just about the only supporting member of the original series who gets anything of significance to do, leaving Shigeru Izumiya and Masahiro Takagi to just try and fill in some gaps during very brief stints. A worthy cast inclusion comes in the form of Koyuki, who leaves a strong impression in her first major film appearance; this collaborative effort raises Keizoku’s worth, but of course the main storyline all boils down to its central figures. Miki Nakatani leads the way as a typically quirky and ditzy, yet talented detective, alongside Atsuro Watabe’s gruff opposite, and together they form a solid partnership - the fruition of a strong relationship that’s seen them previously test their loyalty to one another. Stick around for the post credit sequence where the cast ambiguously discuss a sequel that unfortunately never materialised, if at all one was ever intended.
Boy, where do I begin? The problem with transfers this poor is that it’s very difficult to gauge how it’s actually supposed to look. The only saving grace is that it’s presented with an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though oddly enough Terra lists it as 4:3 on the sleeve artwork. But it all goes downhill from here; the standards conversion feature is soft throughout, with detail going up and down regularly, but more so on wider shots. While the general colour tones are adequate, though a tad washed out, there’s some awfully high contrast and very poor black levels, which just about strips the film of any definition. Furthermore there’s plenty of unsightly cross colourisation, which looks hideous on grey suits for example, as well as aliasing, slight compression artefacts and ugly edge enhancement. There’s also a filter of grain, which admittedly isn’t a problem, but due to the heavy nature of unsightly materials on this presentation I’m not sure how much is inherent to the original source. Another strike against Terra’s authoring abilities, though I suspect they’ve been given yet more piss poor materials to work with. It’s really not enough in the age of DVD though. Very poor indeed.
The soundtrack fares a little better, presented in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0, which is probably the same as its original theatrical presentation. It serves its purpose on this disc; dialogue is fine, and the sound effects do the job, but obviously lack a greater surround experience. At best the levels are raised when required, which is satisfactory and I suppose if anything it matches how the television series sounded. Optional English subtitles are provided and they’re of good quality, with no timing issues or major grammatical errors.
The bonus materials consist of the film’s original trailer, in addition to filmographies for Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi, Miki Nakatani and Atsuro Watabe. Also included is a collection of trailers for other Terra releases.
As you can probably tell it wasn’t easy to write this. It’s often difficult to judge a film that you liked to a considerable degree, but fails to work as a standalone piece. Despite a fair amount of coherency during the mystery portion the film soon becomes completely maddening and the final act takes us out of the picture with its extremely dark tone. All I can say is that Terra has misjudged their market and I don’t think that even they knew what they were holding in their hands with Keizoku: Unsolved Mysteries - Beautiful Dreamer. At the very least the television series should have been licensed or else they shouldn’t have bothered at all. Although the film is pleasant enough to watch I’m afraid that I can’t recommend it highly. This is a product which will no doubt frustrate potential buyers who aren’t going to be getting the kind of film that they think they are. Sorry Terra, but you’ve really dropped the ball on this one. Now if you licence the TV series all will be forgiven.