ContactSales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Japan, 26 Apr 2013.
Presented by Shield of Straw Production Committee (Nippon TV Network, Warner Bros. Pictures Japan, OLM, Kodansha, YTV, Yahoo! Japan, East Japan Marketing & Communications, STV, MMT, SDT, CTV, HTV, FBS) (JP). Produced by Nippon TV Network (JP). Executive producer: Okuda Seiji. Producers: Kitajima Naoki, Saka Misako, Maeda Shigeji.
Script: Hayashi Tamio. Novel: Kiuchi Kazuhiro (2004). Photography: Kita Nobuyasu. Editing: Yamashita Kenji. Music: Endo Koji. Art direction: Hayashida Yuji.
Cast: Osawa Takao (Lieutenant Mekari Kazuki), Matsushima Nanako (Shiraiwa Atsuko), Kishitani Goro (Okumura Takeshi), Ibu Masato (Captain Sekiya Kenji, Fukuoka police), Nagayama Kento (Kanbashi Masataka), Yo Kimiko (Yuri Chikako), Fujiwara Tatsuya (Kiyomaru Kunihide), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Ninagawa Takaoki), Honda Hirotaro (Oki, section chief).
Shield of Straw 藁の楯
Contemporary crime drama
2013, colour, 2.35:1, 125 mins
Directed by Miike Takashi (三池崇史)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 21 May 2013, 23:45 PM (HKT)
Two hours of above-average pulpy action entertainment from the reliable Miike Takashi. Asian and genre events.
Tokyo, the present day, June. The body of a seven-year-old girl, Ninagawa Chika, is found in the district of Kitazawa, west Tokyo, and the murder is blamed by her grandfather Ninagawa Takaoki (Yamazaki Tsutomu), multi-billionaire head of Ninagawa Industrial, on Kiyomaru Kunihide (Fujiwara Tatsuya) who was released from prison the previous October. Takaoki takes out a print ad offering a ¥1 billion (US$10 million) reward to anyone who can kill Kunihide. His two conditions are that (a) whoever kills him must also be tried and punished under the law and (b) Kunihide's murder must be authorised by the government. When a drug smuggler, Tanaka, who is sheltering Kunihide in Fukuoka, southern Japan, tries to kill him, Kunihide just manages to escape and turn himself into the Fukuoka police. Lieutenant Mekari Kazuki (Osawa Takao), a hotshot with the Security Police's Unit 4, is sent from Tokyo to bring Kunihide safely back to the district attorney's office for prosecution within 48 hours. The highly skilled Shiraiwa Atsuko (Matushima Nanako) goes with him, along with veteran Okumura Takeshi (Kishitani Goro) and the younger Kanbashi Masataka (Nagayama Kento). After surviving an attack by a policeman in Fukuoka, Kunihide is hospitalised, where the four meet him. Also coming along for the ride is Captain Sekiya Kenji (Ibu Masato), head of Fukuoka police. After Kunihide survives yet another attack, the sextet sets out for the two-hour flight to Tokyo in a massive convoy to the airport. But on a special website created by Ninagawa, Kunihide's exact location is shown for anyone to have a go at killing him. After more attacks, and the cancellation of the plane, the group decides to make the 1,200-kilometre journey by bullet train instead. But it soon becomes clear there's a mole working for Ninagawa among them.
In MIIKE Takashi 三池崇史's Shield of Straw 藁の楯, the entire population of Japan turns into potential killers as a multi-billionaire offers ¥1 billion (US$10 million) to anyone who can kill his grand-daughter's murderer — and, as they say in the movies, only four Security Police agents stand in the way. It's a clever idea that isn't fully developed, or even given many quirky Miike touches, but as two hours of pulpy action cinema, punctuated by some memorable setpieces, Shield ticks most of the boxes as pure entertainment.
As the SP officers risk their lives transporting a scumbag serial killer from Fukuoka to Tokyo to stand trial, the plot evokes any number of US westerns of lawmen doing their lone duty against impossible odds and in dangerous territory. But it's the idea of a whole country being a potential assassin of the prisoner that takes the idea to its next level: as one character gasps, "Anyone out there could be a killer — 125 million of them!" However, this omnipresent threat is only given full rein in the first half-hour, as various unlikely people have a go at topping the prisoner. Thereafter, the film concentrates more on the subplot of whether there's a mole in the SP's midst, their growing angst over whether the prisoner is worth dying for, and more regular action setpieces. A whole movie could have been made out of ordinary people turning into killers for money — a kind of action version of a ghost-train ride — but that's not what Shield of Straw turns out to be.
The setpieces — especially an explosive pile-up on an airport motorway and a shootout on a bullet train — are extremely well staged, and the film maintains tension by the simple device of a website (set up by the billionaire offering the reward) that tracks the exact location of the prisoner for anyone who wants to have a go. The script by HAYASHI Tamio 林民夫, a regular with director NAKAMURA Yoshihiro 中村義洋 (Fish Story フィッシュストーリー (2009), Golden Slumber ゴールデンスランバー (2009), See You Tomorrow, Everyone みなさん、さようなら (2012)), is too neat and tidy in its later stages as it wraps everything up, but is still way above an average action drama's, with relationships between the leads deftly sketched in a bottom-line way. Performances across the board are very solid, with veterans from KISHITANI Goro 岸谷五朗 and IBU Masato 伊武雅刀 as grizzled SP agents to MATSUSHIMA Nanako 松嶋菜々子 (the reporter in The Ring リング (1998) and The Ring 2 リング２ (1999)), now a mature 39, credibly playing the tough female officer in the group. OSAWA Takao 大沢たかお (Goemon ＧＯＥＭＯＮ (2009)) is just a little too low-key as the SP leader to give the movie the strong lead it needs, and FUJIWARA Tatsuya 藤原竜也 (Light in Death Note デスノート (2006)) is rather under-written until the later stages as the psycho prisoner. But overall the film is cast in depth and shows the benefits of having a skilled rather than workmanlike scriptwriter in charge.
Miike's regular d.p. KITA Nobuyasu 北信康 effortlessly creates one after another full-bodied widescreen composition that evokes the varied stages of the group's trek across 1,200 kilometres northwards to Tokyo. The film is actually adapted from the first novel by well-known manga artist KIUCHI Kazuhiro きうちかずひろ (Be-Bop High School, 1983-2003), who also turned director for the first episode of thriller anthology Killers, 2003), but in general Miike doesn't go for any kind of manga look or feel.