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Friday, Jan. 30, 2009
'Dare mo Mamotte Kurenai'
The media gone mad
The popular media maw, from the Brit tabloids to the Hollywood paparazzi, chews up its subjects, from celebs to criminals, everywhere, anytime. If you're at the receiving end, it's probably an awful experience. Nonetheless, there's something special about the voracity of the Japanese media, with its huge, never-ending appetite for smut, scandal, crime — and actors making vapid remarks on movie theater stages. (Watching my fellow hacks frantically recording those remarks, I am always glad I work for publications with little or no need for them.)
In Hollywood movies, the media is usually an ineffectual nuisance that the good characters treat with sarcasm or silence. In many Japanese films, however, from Akira Kurosawa's "Shubun" ("Scandal," 1950) to Satoru Isaka's "Focus" (1996) and even Keiichi Hara's "Kappa no Coo to Natsuyasumi" ("Summer Days with Coo," 2007), an anime for children, the media is portrayed as a relentless menace, savaging careers and lives.
In Ryoichi Kimizuka's "Dare mo Mamote Kurenai" ("Nobody to Watch Over Me"), this menace has grown beyond its traditional breeding grounds — the weeklies and their ilk — to the Internet with its millions of bloggers and anonymous message-board posters. The film, Kimizuka's third as a director and umpteenth as a scriptwriter (his many TV and film credits including the megahit "Odoru Daisosasen" ["Bayside Shakedown"] franchise), sensationalizes this threat, with shot after shot of fingers typing away with a voracious insect energy, like army ants swarming over a meal.
At the same time, I was reminded of a recent phone conversation I had with a YouTube celebrity, who pleaded with me not to use her real name in a story because she had been receiving death threats. My image of YouTube celeb haters, I must admit, was that of harmless losers, but she was sincerely frightened. "Daremo" brings the causes of those fears to vivid demonic life, while claiming, accurately enough, that the victims will find no peace this side of the grave.
The central target for the film's media feeding frenzy is Saori (Mirai Shida), a fresh-faced 15-year-old whose disturbed older brother has been arrested for the murder of two young sisters. Within hours of this monstrous crime, Saori's ordinary suburban home is invaded by dozens of police and surrounded by hundreds of reporters and cameramen, while Saori and her parents sit trapped and stunned inside, their lives changed forever.
Two of the cops, the weary Katsuura (Koichi Sato) and the cynical Mishima (Ryohei Matsuda), are assigned to protect Saori from the media hordes. Katsuura, who has a daughter about the same age, living with his former wife, takes a more than usual interest in this job, whisking the girl from place to place, including the apartment of his current lover (Yoshino Kimura), just one step ahead of the press mob.
One reporter (Kuranosuke Sasaki), enraged that the cops are protecting the family of the killer, becomes determined to track Katsuura and his charge to the ends of the Earth, especially after he learns that, three years earlier, Katsuura had failed to stop a criminal he was following from fatally knifing a four-year-old boy. Meanwhile, Saori loses whatever trust she had in the police when she hears that her mother has committed suicide while in their custody.
Kimizuka and cinematographer Naoki Kayono have shot the film in a breathless, agitated hand-held style, like a TV news crew following an elusive quarry, which is right for the subject matter, while disguising the overly determined, just-so nature of the plotting. But when Katsuura and Saori take uneasy refuge in an Izu inn run by the parents of the murdered boy (!), and find themselves surrounded by angry netizens, the film begins to feel less like a semi-documentary, more like a TV melodrama about Internet-induced mass hysteria.
Also, though Katsuura and Saori become closer, the expected catharsis never quite arrives. This is not a failure of the actors: Both veteran Sato and newcomer Shida acquit themselves well, with Sato making Katsuura's habitual hand tremor look less like a groan-inducing cliche and more like a genuine expression of his traumatized character. But the plot, with its iron focus on Katsuura's redemption, doesn't give their relationship enough room to truly breathe.
Still, the timing of "Dare mo Mamote Kurenai" is perfect, given all the current anxieties about not just the Internet, but the state of a world in which our political and economic protectors have proven to be so chillingly incompetent. We can only hope that a few real-life Katsuuras come along, albeit it with steadier hands.