Where does Takashi Miike get his energy from? Thanks to Film 2000 Kev looks at the first two episodes in his stunning TV series, where people are turned into human plant pots – oh the craziness.
Yousuke Kobayashi (Naoki Hosaka) was once an officer working for the homicide division until tragedy befell him at the hands of a man named Shinji Nishizono and his brain triggered a hidden personality. Yousuke became Kazuhiko Amamiya – a criminal profiler and subsequently killed Nishizono in an act of revenge. This incident forced him into early retirement. Years later and a series of bizarre murders have taken place that share similarities to one another, which soon sees Amamiya called out of retirement. With the help of Machi Isono (Tomoko Nakajima) and his old partner, Tooru Sasayama (Ren Osugi) they set out to solve these cases and discover that the mysterious bar-coders are behind them. To make matters worse the suspects claim to be Shinji Nishizono. Is he dead or is a far more sinister plot developing?
MPD-Psycho or “Tajuu Jinkaku Tantei Saiko” began life as a Manga in 1997. Created by Otsuka Eiji and Tajima Sho-u the series became well known for its gory realism and surreal case files, that had at their heart a man suffering from a mental illness trying to solve several crimes and their connections to one another. Trust Takashi Miike to develop the Manga into a six-part television series in 2000. It seems like an impossible story to translate, but where Miike is concerned anything is possible and as MPD-Psycho demonstrates his already established skills as a director, so does it set out to become one of the most intriguing and beautiful series since the likes of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – only with more nasty bits.
MPD-Psycho follows as close to the Manga as possible but avoids giving away as many details in its first two episodes as volume 1 of the Manga did, by this I mean Kobayashi’s induced third personality has yet to surface as well as his lengthy stint in jail being reflected upon. In addition Miike has avoided some of the more problematic scenes which would no doubt place the budget in higher excess than it already was, as well as being able to show some interesting sides to Kobayashi/Amamiya with the ever recurring motif of rainfall and other moments of quirkiness. Like the manga these opening stories focus on Kobayashi’s past with his search for truth and identity, in the process solving crimes for the police department. Miike takes these elements from the manga and shifts them to break the narrative, causing a chain of surreal events that should ultimately piece together the overall story arc. He has six episodes to do this in, whereas the Manga has continued strongly for ten volumes at present. The question then becomes “how well has Miike adapted the story for television“? Well for one he’s done what he can to bend every genre possible. MPD-Psycho is remarkably well suited to live action and Miike continues to push boundaries for television, producing varying scenes of intensity and surreal imagery, and slips in an interesting nod toward violent manga itself and the influence it may have upon society (intentional or not).
Here we have two episodes that set up our characters without going into huge detail yet also incorporating two horrific crime tales that share one thing in common. Through these two very different storylines we’re introduced to a little back story involving the mysterious Shinji Nishizono, who somehow manages to transmit himself through complete strangers via phone lines – be it mobile, domestic or the internet. Along with this we are dragged into the Lucy Monostone arc which quite frankly during this first volume is downright confusing. We know he’s an extremely influential force whose maintained a cult following since the 60’s and to some extent we get some insight through one or two important figures that are related in some way to our protagonists. There is still plenty left to divulge though so it isn’t worth worrying just yet if you can’t get your head around events. Finally there are the bar-coders – again a related subject that sees victims of these crimes carry bar-coded tattoos on their eyeballs. Given all these elements Miike does a wonderful job in bringing them together with a styling of digital video and computer generated effects.
Takashi Miike has often managed to keep ahead of the censors and with MPD-Psycho he shows us an interesting quality whereby he digitally blocks many of its disturbing visuals, not a surprise considering its intended television run. This tongue in cheek approach brings a smile every so often, though doesn’t lessen the impact of such scenes. It makes them more curious in many ways; obviously it’s no where near as graphic as the manga and at times Miike gives us a quick-flash uncensored glimpse, it’s playfully manipulative and far from a distraction as one might initially perceive it to be. Perhaps this makes it even more psychologically challenging, it requires us to look beyond the digitised and see the horror behind. In fact much of what we are allowed to see is played in the background, with the likes of snuff videos. So for those curious, Miike intended for us to see this series digitally masked, though these moments can be viewed uncensored as extra features on the Japanese DVDs – scenes which have not been included for this UK release, but seeing as it’s a deliberate, experimental move on the director’s part I can’t say I’m fussed.
With the manga being quite complex the difficult task is bringing to life the multitude of personalities that reside in Eiji and Sho-u’s world. Thankfully the cast here is more than capable of this task. Naoki Hosaka has more than his work cut out as the schizoid detective, but with the TV show featuring far less character development he struggles to the match the intensity of the manga portrayal. As those trying to keep him on the rails, Nakajima and Osugi put in fine turns respectively, although Nakajima’s Isono is sparsely used here with comparison to her manga counterpart, not to mention looking slightly less the part. Sasayama plays a larger comic role, particularly when paired with officer Manabe (Sadaharu Shiota), the “geek” who enjoys making models for profiling.
Case 01: Drifting Petals/Memories of Sin
Detective Yousuke Kobayashi or Kazuhiko Amamiya (as he sometimes likes to be known) is called out of retirement to help the police work on a sinister case. A sick-minded criminal is kidnapping young woman and turning them into human flower pots. His work seems to be linked to a series of bombings carried out by Lucy Monostone during the 60’s in the USA. In addition his victims have bar-codes tattooed onto their eyeballs, signifying a cult of some sort, one that shares ties with Kobayashi’s past. Meanwhile Kobayashi’s wife, Chizuko has disappeared…
Case 02: How to Create a World
While Chizuko is wandering around the city in a dazed state a serial killer is murdering pregnant women and stealing their unborn children, by means of surgical knives. Amamiya, Sasayama and Isono are called onto the case that looks like it involves hypnotism. Like before the victims are bar-coded – could this be the work of Shinji Nishizono?
Film 2000 brings us the series for the first time in the UK. Comprising of six episodes MPD-Psycho is released across three DVDs.
Unfortunately we’re a little let down with this release. Film 2000 brings us the series in an interlaced 1.85:1 non-anamorphic ratio with forced subtitles. The image exhibits extreme aliasing in addition to heavy cross colourization and composite artefacts. Black levels are adequate at best, with low contrast and the series has an often soft look about it. Edge Enhancement is very high, to a distracting degree and I suspect the source material provided wasn’t of the best quality but it’s worth noting that the series was shot on Beta so a lot of these are simply by-products. With no Japanese release to go against I can’t confirm how much better or worse the series should to look, but this is quite a disappointment and shame seeing that there are some truly beautiful shots throughout.
The box wrongly states an English 5.1 track, when in fact we get the original Japanese stereo. This is still a surprisingly effective track, particularly when accompanying some of the chase sequences, as well as moments of extreme violence. Tsugutoshi Goto’s score is often lively and well accommodated; though in other areas dialogue sounds a little too quiet. English subtitles are included but are sadly burnt onto the image, with a few grammatical errors cropping up.
Nothing aside from a promotional trailer for “The Maki Collection”.
To say that MPD Psycho is weird would be an understatement. It will likely require a couple of viewings to get the most out of its ambiguous plot, though with two volumes left you shouldn’t expect any more just yet. Takashi Miike has done a very respectable job in bringing the series to life considering some of the short cuts he’s taken here and there. For fans of his work this is pretty indispensable viewing.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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