Movie Review – Prophecy (Japanese Film Festival 2015)

EXPECTATIONS: A thriller/drama similar to the vein of “The Snow White Murder Case”.

REVIEW: Yoshihiro Nakamura is a filmmaker that always surprises me. The stories he tells are never what they seem to be on the surface and his attention to character always amazes me. I remember watching my first Yoshihiro Nakamura film, Golden Slumber (2010), thinking that it was going to be a “man-on-the-run” film, similar to The Fugitive (1994) or The Bourne Identity (2002). But it turned out to be so much more, with many elements of nostalgia, lost love, friendship, distinctively human characters and a heartwarming climax that I never thought would be possible for a genre such as this. But next I watched Fish Story (2009), thinking that it was a comedy, but again, it turned to be so much more, with elements of thriller elements, sci-fi touches, scenes of martial arts and fantastic characters. After the two films, I realized that Nakamura is fantastic at mixing genres to his own style and his focus on character really gives his films punch. And after watching his earlier film, The Snow White Murder Case (2014), I knew that his films had themes that resonate to the audience, like in the latter, it references the evils of social media, enduring friendships and celebrity fandom. Now comes Prophecy, a thriller that is based on a manga, which is a first for Nakamura (most of his films are based on novels). Does the film still retain his distinct filmmaking style or does it suffer the problem of all manga adaptations that comes from condensing vast source material?

Toma Ikuta stars as “The Newspaper Man” or “Gates”, in reference to Microsoft creator Bill Gates, an online terrorist leader who starts a major crime wave, involving violent acts meant to punish and denigrate those who prey on the weak. After each attack, he posts videos of his crimes on the Internet in order to expose the people of their wrongdoings. It catches the attention of Inspector Eriko Yoshino (Erika Toda), a cyber-crime police detective, who starts an investigation that culminates into a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase.

Reading the synopsis, it seems to be a typical chase thriller similar to films like Law-Abiding Citizen (2009) or Se7en (1995), but like all Nakamura films, it ends up being a lot more. There are some thrills to be had in Prophecy, but they are more subversive than you think. For example, there is a chase scene between Gates and Yoshino through the neighbourhood streets, with fast-paced music accompanying the action, but in a strange move, the music stops completely yet the chase is still going. Oddly enough, it pays off in an unexpected way that, without revealing anything, just goes to show that Nakamura handles character extremely well. But for those who are looking for actual thrills and all the tropes that are associated with a thriller would probably leave disappointed.

Like Nakamura’s other films, there are many themes that add to the message of the film, and one theme that is also present in The Show White Murder Case (2014) is the use of social media. In Prophecy, it is used by Japanese society as a modern scales of justice to convey whether The Newspaper Man’s actions are defined as right or wrong. Leading to another theme, it is revealed that it is society itself that makes The Newspaper Man the way he is and the wrongdoers who they are so what is it about society that corrupts people so? Or is it that the people themselves are weak-willed that they are not self-sufficient enough to succeed on their own will? It is in the social commentary in the film that provides the dramatic backbone that makes the storytelling so immersive. Everything from unemployment, workplace bullying, poverty and suicide are integrated into the story with subtlety and it engenders sympathy towards the characters.

Speaking of the characters, the movie would not have been as effective if it weren’t for the acting. Toma Ikuta, whom I assumed was just an idol cashing in on acting, has impressed me lately with his range from the action-thriller Brain Man (2013) to the wacky yakuza comedy The Mole Song (2014) and in Prophecy, he continues his winning streak. Portraying his character’s vulnerabilities in the earlier stages of the film as well as his anger in the later stages, Ikuta succeeds in making you care about Gates. As for Erika Toda, she has come a long way since her role as Misa Amane in Death Note (2006). She was very awkward and overly cutesy on-screen and it carried over to other films as well, but in recent years, as well as in Prophecy, she seems more confident, which was crucial in portraying her character. Not once did her awkwardness or her cutesy type of acting come into play, nor did she seem petulant or acting overly tough to seem superior, she portrays Inspector Yoshino as a great foil to Gates. In the later stages of the film, her character backstory is gradually revealed and it is a compelling and poignant moment to witness and it develops the unspoken relationship between herself and Gates well, even if it is at a visually murky distance.

The supporting roles are small and archetypal, but the actors give more life than the script provides. Yoshiyoshi Arakawa is amusing as Metabol (short for metabolic) while Ryohei Suzuki is charismatic as the world-weary, good-natured Kansai who helps Gates when he is down on his luck. Gaku Hamada, a frequent collaborator of Nakamura, does well as the shy Nobita (a reference to Doraemon) that he could’ve played him in his sleep. Kohei Fukuyama elicits plenty of sympathy as the Filipino refugee who really is the heart of the group of workers that Gates befriends.

Despite the film’s sprawling storytelling, it does have some snags, especially in the third act. There are a few plot twists too many and it makes the ending overlong, diluting the emotional and thematic impact quite a bit. What is also lacking is Nakamura’s use of quirky humour that was prominent in his earlier films. Although there is some present (like during an interrogation between Yoshino and a victim of Gates), the film could use some more to offset the depressing nature of the story a bit. The postscript is also a bit corny, but I have to admit, I was caught up by it since I really cared about the characters. A similar case goes for the climax, which can be polarizing for audiences in terms of the intentions of Gates.

Overall, I thought Prophecy was a great watch that still shows that Yoshihiro Nakamura is a brilliant storyteller and I can’t wait for his next film project.

Quickie Review

PROS

Nakamura’s brilliant storytelling pays off in fantastically cathartic ways

The acting is great from all around

Plenty of food-for-thought in terms of the story’s themes

CONS

Overlong running time

Those expecting actual thrills will be disappointed

SCORE: 8/10

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2015! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Toma Ikuta, Erika Toda, Ryohei Suzuki, Gaku Hamada, Yoshiyoshi Arakawa
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriter: Tamio Hayashi, based on the manga by Tetsuya Tsutsui

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