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Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2003

A game of cops 'n' robbers played the Japanese Way

Odoru Daisosasen the Movie 2

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Katsuyuki Motohiro
Running time: 138 minutes
Language: Japanese
Currently showing
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Based on a popular Fuji TV series, "Odoru Daisosasen the Movie (Bayside Shakedown)" was the Japanese film industry's surprise hit of 1998. Its 7 million admissions and 10.1 billion yen gross earnings made it the fifth most successful Japanese film of all time. Instead of merely recycling its rebel-cop-on-a-mission formula from Hollywood, "Odoru Daisosasen" producer Chihiro Kameyama and his collaborators localized it with wit and flair.

News photo
Yuji Oda in "Odoru Daososasen the Movie 2"

Hero Shunsaku Aoshima (Yuji Oda), may have been defiantly unorthodox and badly groomed in the best Hollywood cop-movie tradition, but he was not another tough-guy loner working the mean streets. Instead, he was a former salaryman whose beat was the trendy Odaiba waterfront district where Fuji TV's headquarters building happened to be located. Also, in the whole film, Aoshima did not dodge a single explosion or kill a single bad guy while uttering a deadpan one-liner. Instead, "Odoru Daisosasen" derived most of its comedy and dramatic tension from Aoshima's conflicts with the police bureaucracy, from precinct timeservers more intent on their own petty perks than on catching crooks, to the elite of the Metropolitan Police (Keishicho) and National Police Agency (Keisatsucho), who regarded beat cops like Aoshima with barely disguised contempt.

This focus on Japan-specific issues, particularly the organizational sclerosis that thwarts innovation and individual initiative, may have limited the film's international prospects -- it sold to only a handful of territories -- but resonated strongly with local audiences. They bought not only movie tickets, but also books that investigated every aspect of the film's densely populated, highly detailed world. Some otaku even gave themselves Aoshima makeovers, while Oda emerged as one of Japan's few bankable stars.

A remake was all but inevitable -- the only surprise is that it has taken nearly five years for "Odoru Daisosasen the Movie 2 -- Save the Rainbow Bridge" to reach the screens. As Kameyama explains in a program interview, the first film's originality meant that the sequel could not be a mere re-read. "We had to come up with something that no could imagine," he said.

But the film that has finally emerged after endless hashing out of "original" ideas has perhaps the most obvious plot engine of all: a terrorist threat to the Rainbow Bridge. Also, submitting to the iron law of the Japanese movie business -- that fans come to series films looking for, not new twists, but more of the same -- the producers have brought back almost the entire cast of the first film, playing characters mostly still locked into the attitudes and even styles of half a decade ago (including Aoshima's trademark tousled hair and rumpled overcoat).

Some things have changed since 1998, however. Though Aoshima is once again battling the powers-that-be, his main adversary is no longer Muroi (Toshio Yanagiba) -- the grim-faced Keishicho investigator who, in the first film, ended by siding with Aoshima against his superiors, but another elite cop from the same agency, a woman named Okita (Miki Shinya) who is more than a match for any male bureaucrat in sheer arrogance.

Also, though Aoshima is still assigned to the same wangan (bayside) precinct, the station house is now cheek-by-jowl with the Fuji TV headquarters in Odaiba -- the opening sequences offer a virtual tour of the building and its environs. It even operates its own gift shop, presumably to catch the visitor spillover from its more famous neighbor. (Meanwhile, the film has generated its own plethora of merchandising spinoffs.)

The story gets underway with a bizarre murder committed under the noses of the precinct's cops, with the corpse tied elaborately in a spread-eagle pose, like an open-air S&M sculpture. (It is also an obvious homage to Hannibal Lector's most creative murder in "Silence of the Lambs"). Though Aoshima, his feisty female colleague Kashiwagi (Miki Mizuno) and the rest of the Wangan Police Station crew are soon on the case, the higher-ups decide that they cannot handle it alone -- and assign the command of the investigation to Keishicho cops, led by the imperious Okita. Meanwhile, Muroi serves as an uneasy bridge between the Keishicho elite and the wangan beat cops, who are relegated to a supporting role in their own precinct.

Then another murder occurs -- and though the police investigation goes into full gear, with meetings that look like cop conventions, the killer's motives, let alone identity, are a mystery. Okita and her Keishicho colleagues assign a specialist negotiator to deal with phone calls from the alleged perp, while installing hidden cameras in every nook and cranny to catch him in the act. Their prey remains elusive, however, even daring the cops to ID him at a crowded party. Meanwhile, with the Keishicho outsiders keeping them from their normal duties, the wangan cops are forced to let other criminals roam free, including a pervert whose MO is to bite the necks of his young female victims.

Eventually, the cops realize that they are dealing with something more dangerous than a deranged individual and that the threat is greater than just another serial-murder scare. Okita's high-tech, flood-the-zone tactics are obviously not working. Perhaps Aoshima and his fellow foot soldiers have a better idea.

Director Katsuyuki Motohiro, who also helmed the film "Odoru Daisosasen," executes this familiar material with a smooth professionalism. Newbies who know nothing of the TV series or first film may find the profusion of characters and incidents baffling -- but they are in a distinct minority. The film's numbers so far -- its opening weekend and first-week grosses set new box-office records for domestic films -- indicate that fans can handle its density of information, while enjoying its energy, ingenuity and satiric commentary on the Japanese Way.

The film's take on its villains, however, struck this non-native viewer as strangely 1998. It's bad enough that the other hit sequel of the summer, "Battle Royale 2," will warm the heart of Osama bin Laden. In the universe of "Odoru Daisosasen 2," terrorists are still the comic misfits and bumblers of old cloak-and-dagger parodies. The world may have changed since 9/11, but at the movies, at least Japan is still very much an island unto itself.

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