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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review of "Shirayuki Hime Satsujin Jiken" (白ゆき姫殺人事件)

Finally, the last of my three-part movie reviews series - Shirayuki Hime Satsujin Jiken (The Murder Case of Snow White). I had the highest expectation of this movie compared to the other two I watched in Japan and thankfully it did not disappoint. Besides the suspense element, I think the success of this film lies in the fact that it had such a high level of reality that anyone could have been in the shoes of the heroine who was buckling under the pressure of lies and skewed perceptions created by the people around her who coincidentally wanted to hide their inconvenient truths from the world. In that sense, I think Minato Kanae did a great job in portraying this side of humans which is truly frightening even as we view the whole situation as an onlooker.

From this point onwards, there will be a lot of spoilers so please skip this review if you haven't watched the movie.

A beautiful OL Miki Noriko (Nanao) is found murdered and set on fire in Shiguretani, a national park. Investigations soon point to her colleague Shirono Miki (Inoue Mao), a plain OL who's the exact opposite of Noriko and coincidentally goes missing after Noriko's death. When a TV programme director Akahoshi Yuji (Ayano Go) sets out to investigate the case after receiving a tip-off from his friend Kano Risako (Renbutsu Misako), he finds that the people around Shirono provide nothing but information which paint her to be someone capable of and having the motive to murder Noriko. Swept over by the success of his feature on the case and the attention paid on his Tweets about the investigation, Akahoshi gets caught up in the spiral of lies spun by Shirono's associates but finds that there is only one person who firmly believes in Shirono despite what the world has to say i.e. her childhood friend Tanimura Yuko (Kanjiya Shihori). When the truth is finally revealed, Akahoshi realises his blunder in not verifying the facts before airing his report on Shirono which nearly drives her to commit suicide due to the social pressure...

To be frank, the suspense isn't the key in this story. Although the author tries to suggest that there might be a dark side to Shirono which is unknown to most or concealed, the negativity in the statements provided by those around her gives me the impression that everyone is unwittingly ganging up to make her the scapegoat for something. That is why I was never convinced that she might be the killer because it all seemed to be too much of a coincidence that everyone is speaking ill of the same person. They may not mean to point a finger at Shirono for being Noriko's killer but the combined effect of these comments about Shirono gives the impression to society as a whole that since she's such a dark and scary person, she is capable of anything. The issue with these people who know Shirono or claim to know her is that, they all have inconvenient truths which they don't want the world to know. As such, you have people like Shirono's boss Shinoyama (Kaneko Nobuaki) claiming that she took the initiative to woo him and he dumped her because she was too clingy but the truth was that he was the one who approached her and he dumped her because he got tempted by Noriko who just wanted to snatch him from Shirono. Besides these people who openly spoke ill of Shirono, there were people who concealed their true intentions behind their testimonies of believing in Shirono e.g. Shirono's university schoolmate Maetani Minori (Tanimura Mitsuki) who claimed to be such a good friend of hers but was jealous and nasty towards Shirono once she knew that the latter was seeing Shinoyama. It's quite scary when you come to think of it. People who you know or have known for ages can turn against you in such a dramatic fashion just to make themselves look good or to conceal the truth and you are powerless to fight back because it's one against many. Somehow, the more people concur with something, the more it appears to be the truth and it takes a lot to turn things around and make them see what's true.

At the same time, we are also shown how stereotypes in society can be really misleading and far from the truth. Due to Noriko's good looks and good family background, she was automatically assumed to be a nice person but in actual fact, she was anything far from that. Her persistent efforts in making life difficult for Shirono for no apparent reason (Shirono didn't actually step on her toes or go against her on purpose in any way) just reeks of elitism and her sense of self-entitlement that she should get what she wants. Since Shirono is plain and doesn't seem to have any trait in particular which is outstanding, Noriko could not stand it when Shirono got the attention of Shinoyama nor when she adored the musician group Serizawa Brothers. By using her charm and lying to Shirono, Noriko succeeded in making Shirono upset over the loss of her boyfriend and her idols. However, despite her spiteful nature, those who knew about it did not expose this because that would in turn reveal the things they were hiding. Shinoyama wouldn't have wanted people to know that he was seduced by Noriko which led to him dumping Shirono. Likewise, the killer couldn't tell people about Noriko's true nature because that would have revealed why Noriko was killed. As a result, Noriko got labelled as Snow White, the victim who got killed despite her good looks and kind nature while Shirono was tagged as the witch who was jealous of Snow White.

Another part of the story which I think is worth discussing is whether the family is to be held responsible for the crimes of a criminal. There have been many dramas which have touched on this topic, be it from the victim's family's point of view or the criminal's family's point of view (Sore demo ikite yuku is a good example which shows both sides of the argument). In the Japanese society, it is often seen that family members, usually parents who appear on the TV screen to apologise for the misdeeds of their children. To people who come from countries where the criminal act is seen as the sole responsibility of the criminal, it may seem weird for the family to be held accountable for the deed. However, in most Asian societies, it is often viewed as a failure of parenting duties if your child becomes a criminal i.e. you are seen as not having taught the child well. Moreover, the concept of shared responsibility (rentai sekinin) is so strong in Japan that if the parents or family members do not show remorse or regret over what happened, it is socially acceptable. That is precisely why when Akahoshi went to interview Shirono's parents, they immediately apologised to society for what Shirono was said to have done even though it wasn't proven at that point if their daughter was indeed the killer. As such, it was also no surprise that Shirono was so upset at her parents not trusting her at all that she ignored them when she returned to her family home for her grandmother's funeral.

As I mentioned above, the suspense factor probably wasn't the key in this story so that's why the truth was revealed rather quickly at the end. I think the focus of the story was more on human nature and the dark sides of people rather than the suspense so for those who are looking for suspense thrillers, this may be a tad disappointing since the truth gets shoved into your face literally and there were not many clues along the way to point to the real killer. Personally, I think this is a characteristic I've noticed in Minato Kanae's works which I've watched so far. The premise of the story and its development can be rather exciting but the ending tends to fizzle out that it leaves the viewer wanting a bit more. Much as I thought that the revelation of the killer's identity and motive was rather anti-climatic, I like the final scene where Shirono and Akahoshi cross paths for the first time but never get to know each other's identities. It was ironic that Akahoshi's actions almost caused Shirono her life but she never got to know who this person was. On the other hand, Akahoshi never got to know Shirono and would have to live with the guilt and regret that his irresponsible actions almost caused her to be wronged for something she did not do. I thought it was a rather good ending and rounded up the story pretty well. If it had just ended at the killer being nabbed, I might not have liked this movie as much.

However, not all is lost, or should I say there is some hope to be conveyed in this film. Much as the world seemed to be ganging up against Shirono, the sole saving grace was that she still had a childhood friend Yuko who believed in her innocence. It is indeed difficult to say that you will believe in someone unconditionally no matter what happens especially when the situation was so not in Shirono's favour thus when Shirono comes to know that Yuko has unwavering faith in her, you can imagine how touched she must have been because that would have meant the world to her.

As for the acting, I thought Inoue Mao really nailed it as Shirono Miki this time. I've not watched much of Inoue ever since her Hana Yori Dango days so much of my impression of her still comes from then when she was the spunky Tsukushi. However, she managed to blend herself into Shirono this time and was very convincing as the plain Jane who was wronged for something she did not do. As the movie needed to show both sides of the argument i.e. one of her being the suspected killer and the other being innocent, it needed her to show versatility in her acting and put on entirely different expressions to portray these two types of personalities. I thought she managed to do both sides pretty well which should have convinced some viewers at one point or another that she might have been Noriko's killer.

On the other hand, Ayano Go was surprisingly suitable as Akahoshi who was a jerk for most, if not all times. My impression of Ayano was largely formed when he appeared in "Saikou no Rikon" as a womanising-type of guy with a lazy charm so it surprised me to see him fitting Akahoshi to a T. I felt rather disgusted at Akahoshi, not just because of what he did i.e. not verifying the facts before airing his feature or tweeting his own speculations without proof but also his physical appearance which was kind of sloppy. Even though he got his just desserts in the end (sacked from his job and being attacked by netizens online for spreading the wrong information), I thought that the best punishment for Akahoshi was exactly how the movie ended because he would have to remember the consequences of his actions for as long as he lived.

As for Nanao who was making her film debut through this movie, I thought that the role of Noriko seemed to be a replica of what she did in "Last Cinderella". Equally annoying but I thought Noriko was far more detestable, not that she deserved to die in this fashion. She could probably have been punished in another way for the things she did. Due to the fact that Nanao is still pretty new at acting, there were times when I thought she was a bit stiff but she did manage to convey the spitefulness of Noriko to a certain extent, which I thought was commendable for a first try. If you've seen what she is doing in the current season drama "First Class", I think she seems to be getting better at playing nasty and detestable women which may be good or bad for her career. She has to be careful of being stereotyped if she plays too many of such roles.

And my ratings for this movie...

Story: 9 out of 10 (A bit anti-climatic on the revelation of the killer's identity, would have been better if the suspense factor was improved on)

Acting: 8.5 out of 10 (Inoue Mao and Ayano Go both managed to change my impressions of them and showed versatility in their acting. Supporting cast was OK too.)

Theme song/BGM: 5 out of 10 (The Serizawa Brothers' music didn't leave too much of an impact on me.)

Visual effects / Scenery: 6 out 10 (There were a variety of indoor and outdoor scenes but nothing in particular outdoors which really caught my eye.)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 6 out of 10 (Surprisingly, being the leads of this movie, Inoue and Ayano only had one scene together at the end of the movie so it's hard to say if they had any chemistry. What's more, Inoue and Nanao were mostly featured in flashback scenes so their interaction with the rest of the cast was somewhat limited)

Total: 34.5 out of 50

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