Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Detective Story (2007)

Private detective Raita Kazama (Kazuya Nakayama) is a typical representative of his profession. He's a slob, a wearer of highly dubious fashion (or "vintage clothing", as he likes to call it) and obviously poor as can be, even though he somehow manages to have two employees in his agency.

One evening, when he insinuates himself into the alcohol reserves of his new neighbour, his perversely straight-laced namesake and IT expert Raita Takashima (Kurodo Maki), a distraught woman seeks his help. Unfortunately, Kazama's too drunk and lazy to be of any use and asks her to see him the next day at his office.

She'll never arrive there, though, because she is murdered on her way home from Kazama's. The killer absconds with her liver to do who knows what with it.

Kazama is hit hard by the poor woman's death and decides to find her killer. That's easier said than done when your talents as a detective mostly consist of the ability to wear an absurd wig and when even your ex-colleagues in the police force call you the worst detective ever.

Nonetheless, someone feels threatened enough by our intrepid hero to deposit Kazama's fountain pen close to the next murder victim. That's enough for the police to make Kazama their main suspect, but not enough for the detective to give up on the case, even if it means dodging cops and trying to rope information out of a serial killer whose nemesis he somehow managed to become.

Soon, all trails lead to the eccentric artist Aoyama.

I doubt that Detective Story is a film that could convince someone not already enamored with director Takashi Miike's body of work to fall in love with it. That does not mean that it is not a film worth watching. It's just a difficult film to comprehend and I have a hard time imagining what someone not familiar with Miike's style would make of it.

The film seems to be a re-imagining and sympathetic parody of a late 70s TV show I know nothing at all about (and the Internet won't tell me), so I bet that some of its jokes were going right over my head. But - the film mainly being a comedy of sorts and all - there's quite a bit of humor in it that I did get. Tonally, said humor jumps merrily and with the kind of abandon one is used to from Miike between really unfunny slapstick, that dead-pan Japanese humor which is so dead-pan that you're often not sure if it is in fact humor or just plain weirdness and the sort of left-field stuff one has come to expect from Miike. Because only having his way with one old TV show alone would probably bore our directorial maestro shitless, we also get little routines that play with the mystery genre in general and a truly strange variation on Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter (but with more maggot farming).

Just making a comedy would of course also be way too boring, and so the humor rubs against some gore, some maggots and a tale about the negative influence of Rudolf Steiner's theosophy on a too impressionable mind in a way that I would probably find infuriating if it wasn't exactly what I expected of Miike. This is not one of the films where disparate elements are carefully entwined until they make a beautiful tapestry, instead, they are cut up and cut open with a certain amount of glee and a strange intensity and stitched together in new ways to become a sometimes shambling, sometimes hopping monstrosity with its own kind of beauty.

And while that is more than fine with me, I don't find Detective Story to be one of Miike's strongest efforts. The comedy is sometimes a little too pedestrian, the acting a little too unrefined in the wrong way to make the film completely satisfying and some of Miike's carefully amateurish jump cut tricks just don't seem to lead anywhere all that interesting. Still, I'll take a not completely satisfying film by Miike over films by directors who are always playing it safe any time.


No comments: