Cannes 2013: Shield Of Straw Review

Shield Of Straw


Takeshi Miike is another name that seems to have become associated with Cannes a lot in the past few years. In many ways he has cut a familiar and reliable figure: you know what you're getting with the barmpot director with a penchant for extreme violence and black humour. Or at least, that used to be the case. 2011's Hara-Kiri wasn't exactly the explosive affair we might have expected, offering an almost tender look at a post-Samurai world, effused with emotion and driven by human relationships, and there wasn't the usual commitment to silliness that Miike usually slathers on his work. The reason that film springs to mind here is that Miike has once again been playing with expectations: rather than the zany action we're used to, played against a backdrop of a smiling Miike, winking at the camera, the director has gone, dare I say it, serious. Following his agenda to genre-hop without prejudice, Wara No Tate (or Shield Of Straw to translate) is a grand-scale police focused action movie with a distinctly Nolan-esque edge, but a muddy plot that descends towards lunacy on occasion. It is soaked in adrenaline from the get-go and dripping with huge action, and marks a stark transition from Miike's early works that relied on austere measures for practical effects. There is the same commitment to an amped up plot, which deals mostly in extremes and sways away from cliches despite their obvious availability. The plot kicks off with a trigger - the death of a young girl - whose wealthy grandfather offers a very public reward of ¥1 billion to anyone who kills the suspected killer - a convicted child rapist and murderer just out of prison, who turns himself into police when he realises he's likely to be killed very quickly. A team of elite cops are then assigned to escort him back to Tokyo for his trial, and the situation is quickly marked by suspicion and fear as everyone begins to question who they should trust, and the real value of protecting their suspect. Naturally, they also meet an army of vigilantes seeking reward, as their location is being tracked and they find themselves under the watchful gaze of Youtube. It's a concept ripped straight out of Hollywood (though the source is actually a novel by Kazuhiro Kiuchi) and it works very well with Miike's eye for extreme action, and you can imagine this having an enduring legacy in the West (even if that means the inevitable remake coming soon.) The actors are all incredibly good - especially the cop hero (Takao Osawa) and the disgustingly provocative villain of the piece Tatsuya Fujiwara, and it is they that drive the film's success, rather than the action. It is their conflict between duty and the very human urge to kill the killer and take the reward themselves that is most important here, and Miike shows he has learned from the more subtle human portrait of Hara-Kiri in building his characters. It might be loud and brash, but this is not the usual Miike cartoon, and if there is any justice, it will get a significant Western release run.
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