Controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike has been known in the U.S. as a master of horror, a title he has earned. This man has been hailed as one of the best directors of this age, even by Tarantino. I’ve always seen Miike as one of the most versatile directors around, he has given the Japanese movie-going public “kid-flicks”, Japanese comic book adaptations, gritty and violent Yakuza stories, and films of disquieting horror. “DETECTIVE STORY” (aka. Tantei Monogatari, 2007) is a comedic, black mystery; quite bizarre but all the more disquieting with its premise, the film looks to be a welcome return to the stuff which made Miike famous in America; gore and crazy death scenes.
Raita Takashima (Kuroudo Maki) is a businessman who just moved in an old apartment building where his next door neighbor is another guy named Raita Kazama (Kazuya Nakayama). But as a private eye, the other Raita’s life is way different from a businessman’s lifestyle. One night, in the beginning of a bizarre series of murders, one of the private detective’s potential clients is murdered and has her liver removed. The following victim has her kidneys removed, the next one is found dead missing her lungs. Kazama is accused as the one behind the killings, and must now follow the clues to find the true killer with the aid of Takashima. A very sinister secret is poised to shock the two Raitas as this serial killer is an eccentric painter bent on creating an ‘immortal’ work of art.
“Detective Story” has a premise with potential, the film has the usual Miike signature of gruesome death scenes but curiously it seemed mild compared to his other films. Some of the gore scenes are “fogged” in the film’s first half, as to emulate a little ‘censorship’ but then the gore becomes more graphic near the climax. Yes, there are severed fingers, processed human organs, disemboweled body parts and a very creepy guy in a mask with maggots all over his arm; heck, there are even some hints of ghosts. This guy’s relationship to Kazama may feel reminiscent to Edward Norton’s relationship to Hannibal Lecter in “Red Dragon”, but the film doesn’t really focus their relationship.
Much of the film’s focus is the investigation sequences by Kazama who proves to be a bumbling detective. There are a lot of comedic touches as our clumsy private eye goes through his antics, some are funny while some are definitely a little heavy-handed. I thought actor Kazuya Nakayama’s performance was a little too “cartoonish” and I did feel a slight disconnection to his characterization. Kuruodo Maki’s Takashima is also a little goofy as he spends a lot of time staring at Kazama’s assistant, Mika…Miike does know how to pick his female performers; the Japanese actresses looked positively sexy in a very innocent way. (too bad there is very little nudity) The child who played Miho does steal the show that I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for her.
The story does have its credibility as Miike does set the plot’s groundwork, and everything does add up in a manner similar to other suspense thrillers. The film’s main concept does pitch in some discomfort from his audience as it deals with psychological child abuse, vanity and imbalanced psyche. The character of Yuki Aoyama does feel unsettling but the actual revelation feels a little too forced. I guess it is because the film is a comedy, that any visceral impact in its narrative seems a little lost after all the humorous scenes pitched in.
I have mixed feelings about this film. I may have to say that I am surprised that I didn’t really enjoy this one film by Miike. I suppose one has to be in the proper mindset to enjoy this film, and while it is clearly a comedy, I thought it could have done better as a solid thriller. The blood and violence was very mild compared to his other films, and the death scenes offers very little in the way of becoming fresh. The final scene did make scratch my head (maybe this was Miike‘s attempt at Italian “Giallo“?), and I couldn’t help snickering. I guess I was expecting a more put together film from a film by Takashi Miike (yes, I got it)--this film is a Hoot!
Rental [3- Stars]