Thursday, July 8, 2010

Japan Cuts 2010 Review: Hideo Sakaki's "Accidental Kidnapper"

Accidental Kidnapper (Yukai Rhapsody). 2010. Directed by Hideo Sakaki. Written by Hisako Kurosawa, based on the novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara. Produced by Takayuki Sugisaki, Haruo Umehara, and Kazufumi Asami. Cinematography by Masayuki Fujii. Edited by Hideki Seino. Music by Izumi Sakaki. Art direction by Shimpei Inoue. Sound by Hisashi Iwamaru.

Cast: Katsunori Takahashi (Hideyoshi Date), Sho Aikawa (Shinomiya), Roi Hayashi (Densuke Shinomiya), Eiichiro Funakoshi (Kurosaki, the cop), Koji Yamamoto (Kurosaki's assistant), Shun Sugata (Sakurada), Hideo Sakaki (Endo), Houka Kinoshita (Older yakuza), Takashi Sasano (Old prisoner), YOU (Shinomiya's wife), Tetsu Shinagawa (Old photographer), Susumu Terajima (Sushi chef).

(Note: this review has been cross-posted on Twitch.)

Hideyoshi Date (Katsunori Takahashi) is at his wits’ end when we first meet him in Hideo Sakaki’s Accidental Kidnapper. Deep in debt, with no job, no prospects, and no family, he’s ready to end it all, and tries to do so, but he doesn’t even have the nerve to commit suicide. Wacky events are set in motion when Densuke (Roi Hayashi), a grade school boy, gets into Hideyoshi’s cab and demands to be taken to his prep school. Hideyoshi at first tries to get rid of him, but when he learns that Densuke comes from a rich family, he seizes on the opportunity to get himself out of his financial hole. Recalling the advice of an old prison mate (Takashi Sasano) who pops up now and then to give fantasy pep talks, Hideyoshi hits upon the idea of demanding ransom from Densuke’s parents. Densuke is also on the run; he is impulsively running away from home because he hasn’t been getting along with his parents lately. A foolproof plan, right? Well, if you think so, then you must have not seen a film before. Myriad complications ensue when Densuke’s father turns out to be no ordinary business executive, but a yakuza boss (played by Sho Aikawa, who by now can do this kind of role in his sleep), who sends an army of underlings out to find Densuke and Hideyoshi.

Accidental Kidnapper, based on a 2004 novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara, is light and genial entertainment, which is not especially ambitious or demanding of the viewer. The film plays everything straight down the middle, so that while there are many incidents and complications that pile on top of one another during its course, there’s little sense of urgency or danger. Each event feels like a function of pre-determined plotting, rather than organically arising from the characters and their environment. That being said, one can’t discount the considerable charms Accidental Kidnapper does possess, the main one being the great cast Sakaki has assembled. Takahashi and Hayashi work together beautifully, making their initial personality clashes and eventual camaraderie feel natural and never less than believable. Sho Aikawa and Shun Sugata (as the boss’ right hand man) portray their yakuza roles with considerable skill and charisma, and the quirky baby-voiced actress/singer YOU also impresses in a more limited role as Daisuke’s mother. Accidental Kidnapper, appropriately enough for what is essentially a road movie, also contains some quite stunning scenery, and the natural beauty of the countryside is as easy on the eyes as the film itself is easy on the brain. So while Accidental Kidnapper isn’t a very substantial film, there are plenty worse ways to while away a couple of hours than in the presence of a bumbling criminal and the adorable tot he keeps in tow.

Accidental Kidnapper screens at Japan Society on July 8, 6:15pm. Click here to purchase tickets.

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