May 26, 2009

Detective Story (Tantei monogatari)

Takashi Miike, or Miike Takashi if you prefer, has always been upfront concerning Japanese filmmakers' need to produce multiple films per year to get by on filmmaking alone (he makes extensive comments on his Black Society Trilogy DVDs, among others) - often courting several production companies for a single film, employing no-name actors and actresses, wearing many hats, shooting sans permits, and last but certainly not least, making the most of the skimpiest of budgets; Miike's Detective Story fits into most of those categories. On one hand, Detective Story reflects the fact that a vast majority of Miike's 2006/07 was monopolised by "Sukiyaki Western Django", but on the other hand, it's certainly evidence that Miike hasn't abandoned his guerilla filmmaking ways because of a few highly bankrolled studio projects. A guy's gotta eat in the interim.

Scattered with enough harsh edits and dubious framings to make a high school a/v student blush, Detective Story is principally a horror-mystery initially concerning a woman who believes she is being stalked, then goes missing only to be found horribly mutilated. But the movie starts off, strangely enough, with some unbelievable comedic strikes by way of main character Raita Kazama, a super-relaxed detective with a penchant for western vintage clothing and heavy drinking. Before things get a-rolling mystery-wise, Raita is awoken one midday by a man moving into the vacant apartment next door. Coincidentally, the new tenant is the proud owner of essentially the exact same name as our detective. Well not entirely exact, they have different surnames but with similar kanji, a fact our detective is quick to discover - the same kanji yet alternate pronunciations. (My own kanji dictionary was inconclusive). Raita, the former, is disproportionately amused by the happening - Raita the latter, on the other hand, is not quite as amused by this. That being the case, the computer programmer/anal retentive pushover is nonetheless reluctantly swayed to the position, which opens the door for detective Raita to announce a celebration of their neighbor-ship with a more than awkward night of drinking.

The mystery portion of the film begins in earnest when the first victim appears at Raita's door (with the benefit of already knowing her fate, of course) that same night-cum-morning. She inquires about his professional services but is turned away on equal parts of he being in no shape to meet with her, and she 'having the nerve to come to his home' and not his office. Jump again to her being found by police, sans her liver, and in short order Raita is on the police's short list of suspects. The discovery of a second body, sans kidneys, leads police to believe they have a burgeon mass murderer on their hands which puts Raita, and his agency, and by association Raita Takashima, squarely between the murders, the police, and a reclusive occult painter. That's right, a reclusive occult painter. Then again we also see this nugget at the film's opening.

There's much about Detective Story that works very well; the touches of Miike absurdity with strong fits of humor, the aforementioned Raita Kazama character is the anchor of the film; Harumi Inoue (from Miike's Graveyard of Honor and modeling fame) is witty and sexy in spades; a character-driven affair, no doubt, as there isn't any real set pieces to grip or revelations to be had. Miike leans heavily on tomfoolery and skullduggery to propel an otherwise flimsy, often erratic Tsutomu Shirado screenplay.

There's not much more to say unless it's to dive deeper into the plot itself, yet doing so wouldn't really do so much harm as to play the spoiler; the film is as straightforward, even bland, as mystery-thrillers come. Let alone Miike-helmed thrillers. The reasons, as I said, aren't strictly intriguing ones. The fact that this direct to video release has finally made it to R1 shores is enough reason for me.


  1. Great writeup! Those stills are I may have to check it out for the performances you mentioned, as well as the cartoonish gore. I haven't done a good, weird, gory j-exploitation in ages. Would Tokyo Gore Police be a better pick?

  2. You wouldn't miss with either, Teresa, but the humor in this one puts it in front for me. And the strange thing is that the gruesomest (?) shots in Detective Story are fuzzed out! I'm not finding whether it was intentional... wouldn't put it past Miike considering MPD Psycho does a similar thing, from what I understand.

    Picked up a dvd today called "Late Bloomer" from Go Shibata that supposed to be intense. Where does this stuff come from all od a sudden?! Tis the season, I guess...

  3. That is odd about the fuzzing. Why would Miike, of all people, suddenly worry about offending the audience? :D

    Maybe it's the economy that's causing people to go back to making crazy, on-the-cheap gorefests! Who knows. Btw, in a sorta related tangent, I can't remember if you ever saw or commented on the Guinea Pig series. I was always morbidly curious, and I finally saw them in a video store since moving to Vancouver. I don't know if I should do it or not!

  4. Can't say about Guinea Pig. Read a bit about it some months ago in Asian Cult Cinema Magazine, and there seems to be a unique brand of aggressiveness there. I'll defer to you to give an episode a shot and tell me about it.