by Jason Suzuki
Put together like The Wolf of Wall Street by way of Kinji Fukasaku (the film is based on true accounts), Kazuya Shiraishi’s follow up to his 2013 thriller The Devil’s Path is a decades spanning journey of one police officer’s descent into moral corruption. Gou Ayano is the crucial center to the film, holding it up with his full body performance as Moroboshi, a man recruited by the Hokkaido police department for his judo skills rather than a knack or even interest in police work. Moroboshi does his job by winning the judo championship for the department. The green behind his ears is easily overlooked just as long as he keeps winning. This focus on the wrong thing will remain a constant in the police department depicted in the film.
Moroboshi is not your typical protagonist in a rags to riches to moral corruption story. He is introduced to be a blank slate. He goes where he is told to go, the only interest he seemed to have had at one point was to practice judo but perhaps if the film started earlier in his life we would see he was told to do that as well. Gou Ayano, the star of the film in more ways than one, plays Moroboshi as at first detached, joining in on the illegality of his fellow officers as more of a way to get by. His tactics are not based out of brutality but monkey see monkey do. He says he wants to serve the people and uphold justice when a supervisor asks him why he became a cop, but he says it like something he has practiced. It’s not until later, now that he is entrenched in the lifestyle of a corrupt cop, that he even realizes what it meant. This arc is subtle and Ayano does it well by not dwelling on it.
Moroboshi is mentored by senior detective Murai (Pierre Taki). Murai tells Moroboshi he needs to get his name out there in order to become a good cop. From there we see Moroboshi’s manic quest to spread his business car, slapping it to any surface he can: lockers, street level thugs he just beat up, and even the tits of a woman giving him a nuru massage. The business card smack leads to accidental penetration and then purposeful fornication. Once Moroboshi gets going we get pulled into a world of speed, foreigners, and guns. Lots of guns. The department’s hunt for firearms overtakes their concern for other crimes. They will buy and import guns just to say they found more. It’s a numbers game and Moroboshi, being the way he is, plays extremely well.
The film will jump decades as it pleases, beyond the text on screen the only other indicator we have of the passage of time is Ayano’s actions. It’s not until the jump between the 90s and the 2000s that he is aided by the use of obvious makeup. It’s a performance and a creative choice that recalls another film that put so much trust in its actors to convey time and growth: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. And in the case of Twisted Justice it is devolution being depicted.
Unfortunately it’s the film’s zinger in the denouement that allows the film to really hone in on a social statement. It changes how you see the film, or at least makes it clear what the real tragedy of the film is: the actual title translates to “The Worst Men in Japan.” Emphasis on the plural. This clarifying, authorial moment happens so late into the film, literally in its last minutes, that it can’t save how familiar the majority of the journey has been. As far as indictments of Japan’s police department and criminal justice system go Confessions of a Dog (2009) still stands as the epitome of the statement and the original Battles without Honor and Humanity series builds up to the reveal that the yakuza have become the politicians and the police. Before a sting operation Moroboshi’s partner reassures him that his disguise is good. “You look just like a yakuza,” he remarks. To us he looks like he has throughout the movie. In moments like these the film’s heart is in the right place and Ayano’s performance is a must see.
Twisted Justice opened the New York Asian Film Festival and plays again Tuesday, June 28.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.
Image © 2016 TWISTED JUSTICE Film Partners