Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ace Attorney (2012)

Original title: Gyakuten saiban

(I'll go with the accustomed names of the characters from the western translations of the videogames here; I'm sure there won't be any objections).

Turns out the Japanese judicial system is just as weird as I have always expected. To cope with overburdened courts, a rather more duel-minded court system has been established, because who needs things like judicial fairness, logic, or a proper chain of evidence when he can instead have people dramatically pointing their fingers while shouting "OBJECTION!", holograms, confetti rain and lawyers with manga character fashion style? Not me.

Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya) is a rookie lawyer trying to establish himself in this glorious style of court battles, and he's already breaking down to cringe in moments of crisis with the very best of them. Just after winning his first case against hot-shot dandy prosecutor, as well as his former co-student,  Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saito), Phoenix's mentor Mia Fey (Rei Dan) - of the Fey spiritist family if you need to know - is murdered; supposedly by her younger sister Maya (Mirei Kiritani), but that's a case of judicial error Phoenix takes care of fast enough. This murder is only the first step in a series of events that will lead the attorney to defending Edgeworth against the excellently named prosecutor Manfred von Karma (Ryo Ishibashi) in another murder case, lighting up the murky shadows of his and Edgeworth's fathers' pasts, and learning to cringe even better.

It's a natural law that 99 percent of all videogame movie adaptations are terrible shite. Fortunately, beloved (by me!) Japanese director Takashi Miike does not believe in natural laws of any way, shape, or form as little as the "Ace Attorney" videogames themselves do believe in real-world logic, due process, or a confetti-less court system, so he just went and made a good videogame movie.

Miike is pretty much the ideal director for this sort of thing, for the mixture of hyped-up yet straight-faced absurdism and pop culture references of the - heavily manga, anime and tokusatsu culture based - videogames plays to some of the directors strengths, namely getting distracted by any shiny thing and then filming it, and not giving a crap about realism of any shape, kind or form.

What strikes me as slightly surprising - but works out very well for the film - is how much Miike avoids the stylistic and narrative excess Ace Attorney suggests. The film may be full of ridiculous nonsense and look like a real-life comic book, but it's also restrained enough not to become annoying, generally avoiding to shout into its audiences faces how CA-RAY-ZEEE it is, though it is, in fact, plenty crazy. Ace Attorney's craziness, however, has a very effective internal consistency. Rather like the mirror image of US superhero movies that usually ask how elements of a comic strip would work in the real world, Miike's film asks how elements of the real world would work in a comic strip, and builds its sense of fun on that basis.

For my tastes, Miike keeps up this sense of fun for the whole 130 minutes of running time of the movie. I'd even call the film tight, for, atypical for the director even in his more commercial mode (though you got me if you ask if this is, in fact, made in Miike's commercial mode), there's nary a moment that's pure digression here. Even the many, many moments when the film seems to digress later turn out to be important parts of a rather well-constructed - at least if one is willing and able to accept the film's internal logic - plot.

This makes Ace Attorney an easy to love film for me, for what could be more entertaining than concerted weirdness that still makes its own sort of sense in the end, combined with absurdly-haired people shouting "objection" (or rather "OBJECTION!!!!!")?

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