EXPECTATIONS: A murder mystery about whiny kids acting whiny to achieve justice. Featuring whiny kids.
REVIEW: Ever since I watched the Scooby-Doo cartoon series to reading Goosebumps books and even watching the Sherlock Hound anime series, I’ve always known that I love a good mystery yarn. But for the mature stories, it’s not always the destinations and conclusions that thrill me, but the character’s journeys that they go through in their investigations that kept me on edge. Like the David Fincher film, Se7en, where the mystery is just as compelling as the journeys of the characters and when the two coalesce in the climax as well as it does, there’s no surprise it is still regarded as one of the best film endings ever made. From a movie with a similar setting to the one I am about to review, Confessions, by Tetsuya Nakashima, also had characters that undergo compelling journeys (from grief-stricken mother to vengeful angel), but does Solomon’s Perjury measure up, even with its two full-length films?
A boy, Kashiwagi (Mochizuki Ayumu), is mysteriously is found dead on Christmas Eve at a high school. Two suspects are found. A gang leader, Oide (Hiroya Shimizu) who is widely known for bullying many students and a bullying victim, Juri (Anna Ishii), who has an ulterior motive that could be used against her. With the teachers, parents and authorities bringing very little to no help to the proceedings, the students, led by Ryoko (Ryoko Fujino) and Kambara (Mizuki Itagaki) unleash their own brand of justice by starting their own trial to uphold justice for the victim(s) of the crime and the aftermath of it.
Notice that the film synopsis is really vague to avoid spoilers. To watch a mystery film such as this, it is integral for a viewer to avoid having preconceptions or prior information before watching. But for Solomon’s Perjury, the beauty of the story is that the characters are compelling to the point that the story supports them and not the other way around. The slow-burn approach of Part 1 is all about the repercussions and consequences of the character’s actions and reactions of the death of Kawashigi where as in Part 2, it revolves around the courtroom trial itself and the revelations that come with it. I love how the film portrays the crime in the social of Japan. The school faculty want to cover it all up, the parents want rushed justice with little to no remorse and the media want to milk the situation for all its worth. Whether it is in the view of the media or the parents or the teachers, the ripple of the crime is felt throughout the town and director Narushima shows that without feeling heavy-handed and it adds to the story, particularly on the side of Juri, who uses the media to her advantage.
The adults mostly carry the load of the first film, and they all provide their professional support, with Tomoko Tabata standing out as the lead investigator, Fumiyo Kohinata as the troubled principal and Haru Kuroki in a small role, as a teacher who may or may have not been involved. The young talent provide the massive potential that leads into Part 2, with Anna Ishii and Hiroya Shimizu standing out as the suspects. Anna Ishii is questionably sympathetic and unlikable but what makes her stand out is her portrayal of simmering rage as she does whatever it takes to get revenge. Hiroya Shimizu is similar to Ishii’s performance, but he never goes over the top with his portrayal of a bully and throughout the films, he becomes more a tragic figure than a monster that he is perceived as. It was weird to see Shimizu play a bully here when he played a bully victim in Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako.
For the second film, the young talent are given the opportunity to shine. More of a bystander in the first film, Ryoko Fujino gives a star-making performance as she shows strength, sorrow and grace with such admirable understatement and restraint, that you can’t even fathom that this was her first acting role. Mizuki Itagaki is also given more of a prominent role than in the first film and he plays the facades of his character really well, making you question whether he is on the side of good or bad. It’s talent like this that makes you think that young talent in Japan is more than just idols, models and singers turned actors.
As much as I liked the storytelling and the acting, it’s the climax that lets it down a notch. Not so much the reveals and revelations that come with it but how it is all handled. The way the character’s accountability is well acted by everyone but it goes on too long and it starts to become preachy, almost like an after-school special. In a moral standpoint, it makes perfect sense, but in retrospect, it can be seen as ironically funny. Plus, the adults take a backseat, which is a bit disappointing since some of them have missed opportunities that could have been more developed, like Hiromi Nagasaku’s character, Juri’s mother.
But most of the characters are so well done, that their journey is felt and their development is conveyed in a compelling fashion. If you are looking for a compelling mystery, it suffices. But if you are looking for a drama with compelling characters and a good why-dunnit story, Solomon’s Perjury is worth viewing.
The adult cast are capably professional in their roles (Tomoko Tabata handles the most, with her investigator role)
The young acting talent are fantastic in their roles, exhibiting maturity beyond their years as well as an astounding level of poise, without looking phony
The focus on character makes the storytelling involving, immersive as well as emotionally satisfying, thanks to Narushima’s direction
Great social commentary about how Japan deals with student affairs (i.e, the media, the education system, the students themselves etc.)
The revelations, while well-told and realized, won’t satisfy everyone on a story standpoint
The ending drags a bit, becoming almost preachy
Missed opportunities with some characters
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Cast: Fujino Ryoko, Itagaki Mizuki, Ishii Anna, Shimizu Hiroya, Tomita Miu, Mochizuki Ayumu, Sasaki Kuranosuke, Yutaka Matsushige, Kuroki Haru, Tabata Tomoko, Fumiyo Kohinata
Director: Izuru Narushima
Screenwriter: Katsuhiko Manabe, based on the original story by Miyuki Miyabe