Romaji: Tsumi Toka Batsu Toka
Release Date: 28th February 2009 (Japan),
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Keralino Sandorovich
Writer: Keralino Sandorovich
Starring: Riko Narumi, Kento Nagayama Sakura Ando, Inuko Inuyama, Koji Ookuram Megumi Okina, Eriko Sato, Kumiko Aso, Yasunori Danta
The film starts with the quote:
“It must be some mistake, that’s the only hope” (from Franz Kafka’s The Trial)
Kafka? Don’t worry, Crime or Punishment?!? is not a grim existentialist tale but an absurd and surreal comedy.
The name of the writer-director is Keralino Sandorovich. It might sound Russian but he’s actually a Japanese comedian/theatre director. Crime or Punishment!?! is his third feature film and it carries a simple message: stop relying on others and assert yourself. The film delivers this message in an existential candy-coloured adventure which is filled with accidents, murder, bizarre coincidences and surreal incongruities.
Until midnight you’re our chief executive officer.
Ayame Enjoji (Narumi) is a natural beauty who has fallen into the career of being a gravure idol. She is unhappy because she gets few jobs and little respect and when she compares her career to that of her sexy and domineering friend and rival Momo (Ando) she feels depressed. Before the idol business their roles were reversed but Momo is the one who has taken her opportunities and excelled while Ayame is on a downward slope of lethargy and self-pity. Things are made even worse because Ryoko (Inuyama), her manager, has all but given up on promoting her.
Fantasies deflated, Ayame begins to feel persecuted and alienated and when a magazine prints her newest picture upside down she goes into meltdown and begins overreacting to problems. When Ryoko needs a last-minute model replace Momo and act as “police chief for a day” she selects Ayame. It should be a simple PR campaign with Ayame only required to smile and look cute but the police treat her like a real leader and her ex-boyfriend, Detective Haruki (Nagayama), encourages her in the role while trying to get her to expose a dark secret of his. Things get even stranger with a serial killer on the loose and a gang seizing hostages. Ayame must take charge.
I’m insane. I’m getting used to this more than bowling
Ayame could be anyone of us who lives their lives without defining themselves. The constant knock-backs and weird situations she suffers are of the variety that an uncaring (and extreme) universe metes out to whoever decides to live their life on autopilot. Why should magazine staff treat Ayame seriously if she doesn’t assert herself? How can Ryoko help Ayame if she fails to be proactive? Life is not orchestrated by some higher being or with simple laws and predictable outcomes but something we have to engage with whether we like it or not. Ayame, through the course of her travails as model and police chief, comes to understand this.
Helping Ayame discover her fight are the people surrounding her. They are more assertive, insane, and willing to fight so they dictate the world. The magazine staff are boorish and trample on people’s feelings. Ayame’s manager as played by Inuyama is waspish, like a mother grown tired of the constantly wailing baby. The gang of crooks are a lunatic bunch driven by passions and base thoughts while taking perverse delight in the pleasure a stun gun can give them. Sakura Ando is the highlight as Momo who she plays as super-sexy and supercilious. She serves as the negative vision Ayame’s imagination conjures up when suffers new lows in self-esteem but she offers a vital bit of advice: ‘You should learn to change. It’s inevitable.’ Amusingly they all come together for Ayame’s final trial which will make or break her.
As our lead character Ayame, Riko is likeable and sympathetic. She neatly avoids being wishy-washy and brings out the lackadaisical and directionless core of Ayame. She is not a forceful presence (a comment on our indifferent and lazy modern times?) and watching her being unconventionally victimised by random elements is cruelly amusing. The humour works even better when she goes into meltdown after the relentless pressure but it is satisfying when she eventually does gain a new level of assertiveness and self-affirmation that shows she is more than ready to shape her future.
Like Survive Style 5+ we get a set of weird characters inserted into a colourful and imaginative world where the set design is strong. Particular highlights include the police station manned by a variety of strange looking cops which has a ramshackle air that gets progressively stranger when Haruki reveals rooms menacingly named ‘measuring room’, ‘deluxe measuring room’, and ‘colourful dunking room’. It is a cobwebby nightmare full of discarded items, skeletons and flickering lights.
With its conflicted but likeable female protagonist and a setting that inhabits the same dimension of Survive Style 5+ there is a lot to enjoy even if some of the scatological humour is forced and childish. What I appreciated most was the range of comedy and commitment to existentialist ideals.