ContactSales: Nikkatsu, Tokyo (email@example.com)
Premiere: The World Film Festival (Focus on World Cinema), Montreal, 23 Aug 2013. Theatrical release: Japan, 21 Sep 2013.
Presented by The Devil's Path Film Partners (Nikkatsu, Happinet) (JP). Produced by Flamingo (JP). Executive producers: Toba Kenjiro, Tonimura Mikio. Producer: Chiba Yoshinori.
Script: Takahashi Izumi, Shiraishi Kazuya. Non-fiction novel: "Shincho 45" Editorial Department (2009). Photography: Imai Takahiro. Editing: Kato Hitomi. Music: Yasukawa Goro. Art direction: Imamura Riki. Sound: Urata Kazuharu.
Cast: Yamada Takayuki (Fujii Shuichi), Pierre Taki (Sudo Junji), Ikewaki Chizuru (Fujii Yoko, Shuichi's wife), Lily Franky (Kimura Takao, "Sensei"/"Doc"), Shirakawa Kazuko (Ushiba Yurie), Yoshimura Jitsuko (Fujii Kazuko, Shuichi's mother), Kobayashi Katsuya (Igarashi Kuniyuki), Saito Yu (Hino Yoshimasa), Yonemura Ryotaro (Sasaki Kenichi), Matsuoka Izumi (Tono Shizue, Junji's woman), Jiji Boo (Ushiba Satoru), Muraoka Nozomi (Shibakawa Rie, Shuichi's editor), Tsukomo Hajime (Fukumori), Tobayama Bunmei, Hirosue Hiromasa, Hara Fukiko.
The Devil's Path 凶悪
Contemporary crime drama
2013, colour, 16:9, 128 mins
Directed by Shiraishi Kazuya (白石和彌)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 09 December 2013, 20:50 PM (HKT)
Drama of everyday, criminal evil is good but lacks a knockout punch. Asian events.
Japan, the present day. Fujii Shuichi (Yamada Takayuki), a journalist with Meicho Publishing, is assigned by his editor (Muraoka Nozomi) to look into a letter the company has received from a yakuza, Sudo Junji (Pierre Taki), who is on death row for the murder seven years ago of his associate Igarashi Kuniyuki (Kobayashi Katsuya), the attempted murder of another, Hino Yoshimasa (Saito Yu), and the rape and murder of Yoshimasa's woman, Tanaka Junko. Shuichi visits Junji in Kosuge Detention Centre, where Junji says he wants revenge on a once-trusted partner, real-estate broker Kimura Takao (Lily Franky), aka "Sensei", who set him up. With nothing to lose, Junji will reveal details of three other murders in which Sensei was also involved if Shuichi agrees to write an article. Shuichi's editor says she's not interested in such an old story, even if it's true, but Shuichi perseveres on his own. His work puts additional strain on his marriage to Yoko (Ikewaki Chizuru), who is already being driven crazy by his aged, forgetful mother (Yoshimura Jitsuko) who lives with them. Junji's memories of the three murders are vague: the first involved him and Sensei burying a man, Shimagami Tsuyoshi, alive; in the second he helped to dispose of a body for Sensei in the incinerator of a construction company owner, Morita Koji; the third, in 2004, involved him and Sensei killing an old man, Ushiba Satoru (Jiji Boo), for his life assurance money, with the complicity of Satoru's own family, in order to repay a debt. As Shuichi digs deeper and finds Junji's confession to be true, he refuses to give up his investigation, despite the lack of hard evidence, his editor's lack of interest and Sensei's skill in covering his tracks.
Though there's still an indie feel to The Devil's Path 凶悪, in every other respect there's a world of difference between it and director SHIRAISHI Kazuya 白石和彌's first feature, the dreamy, melancholic love triangle Lost Paradise in Tokyo (2009). Calling itself "a work of fiction based on a true story," Path is a much bigger movie in ambition and reach, taking on issues like media manipulation, press ethics, police lassitude, personal guilt and redemption, and quotidian human cruelty — all wrapped up in the story of a condemned yakuza who tries to get revenge on an accomplice by telling a journalist about three unknown killings.
Based on the 2009 non-fiction novel, Evil: A Death-Row Prisoner's Accusation (凶悪―ある死刑囚の告発―), the movie doesn't fully justify its two-hour-plus length and is flawed by a bloodless performance from actor-singer YAMADA Takayuki 山田孝之 (Train Man 電車男 (2005), Looking for a True Fiancée 指輪をはめたい (2011)) as the journalist who becomes obsessed by seeing justice done. Overall, however, it's sustained by Shiraishi's everyday approach to often shocking material and by powerful playing from actor-technopop singer Pierre TAKI ピエール瀧 as the bovine gangster (for whom killing is just part of the job) and Lily FRANKY リリー・フランキー as his smilingly duplicitous accomplice (for whom even loyalty between criminals is a complete non-starter).
Due to both the script and Yamada's blank performance as Shuichi, the film lacks a character with whom the audience can strongly identify and doesn't fully explore the journalist's ethical conundrum between being exploited by a death-row gangster and doing his job as an investigative reporter. The attempt to give some emotional background to Shuichi via a troubled home life (ageing mother, stressed-out wife) also seems rather perfunctory, though IKEWAKI Chizuru 池脇千鶴 (the lover in Sweet Little Lies スイートリトルライズ (2009), the perky flower-shop owner in Penance 贖罪 (2012)) makes the most of her token character. As a result, most of the first half is driven by Taki's very physical presence as the murderous gangster and, from the moment he first appears in flashback, by Franky (the "other" father in Like Father, Like Son そして父になる) as his accomplice, a beautifully underplayed performance of remorseless evil.
It's that flashback — a 48-minute section in the centre of the film — that shows the murders the audience has so far only heard about or which happened off-screen. The most forceful and stomach-churning, more for its casualness than for what's actually shown, is the third: the slow killing of an old man, with the complicity of both himself and his family, in order to pay off a debt with his life assurance money. Any lingering thoughts that Taki's gangster isn't every bit as evil as Franky's accomplice are put to rest here, giving the later prison scenes of the supposedly penitent gangster (who's now found God) a cynical edge.
However, when the film returns to the present day at the 93-minute mark, it doesn't follow through on the accumulated drama as much as it should. Shiraishi maintains the measured pace and outwardly undramatic approach of the opening at a time when the movie really needs to pack bigger punches. A courtroom sequence comes close to what is needed, and Franky's final scene aims at dramatic irony, but the audience is still left feeling a little short-changed for its patience.
Production credits are okay, with no special visual signature to IMAI Takahiro 今井孝博's photography, apart from the clinically composed meetings between Yamada and Taki in the prison. Intriguingly, the film is produced by CHIBA Yoshinori 千葉善紀, better known for pulpier, more extrovert fare like Nikkatsu's Sushi Typhoon label and several films by SONO Sion 園子温 (Cold Fish 冷たい熱帯魚 (2010), Guilty of Romance 恋の罪 (2011)).