Japanese Title: 白ゆき姫殺人事件
Romaji: Shira Yuki Hime Satsujin Jiken
Running Time: 126 mins.
Release Date: March 29th, 2014 (Japan)
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Writer: Tamio Hayashi (Screenplay), Kanae Minato (Original Novel)
Starring: Mao Inoue, Gou Ayano, Misako Renbutsu, Nanao, Shihori Kanjiya, Nobuaki Kaneko, Erena Ono, Mitsuki Tanimura, Shota Sometani, Katsuhisa Namase, Dankan,
Seen at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2014
Yoshihiro Nakamura’s latest film is a twisting murder tale which is less about who-dunnit and more about tearing open the glossy façade of contemporary media and revealing the lurid rumour-fuelled tabloid culture that festers underneath. As a Twitter-addict at a TV company uses social media to investigate a shocking death, he finds himself gaining what could be a massive scoop. With every Tweet he becomes the preacher to a growing congregation of gossips ready to praise him but his audience can turn and in his enthusiasm and efforts to catch a big news story he blithely ignores the damage that spreading rumours can do to promote his career.
Breaking news! Murder in Shigure Valley!
The Snow White Murder Case starts with the results of the crime. It is night time and a beautiful woman lies on a forest floor. As the camera pulls back, blood runs down her neck and we see multiple stab wounds gush forth with more blood.
By morning her burnt corpse has been found in the nature preserve in Shigure Valley. As the news of the dead body is revealed by police, Twitter users link it to the recently disappeared Noriko Miki (Nanao). When her death is confirmed the testimonies about Noriko flood in from co-workers and friends at the cosmetics company famous for Snow White soaps where she worked. We find out that she was the most beautiful girl at the company, well-liked, and respected and helpful, an innocent fairy-tale like beauty. All of that is in the past because she is now the subject of a massive tabloid scandal.
News slowly leaks out mostly because of Akahoshi (Ayano), a temporary news director addicted to Twitter.
We first see him in a television production control room but kept far away from the control deck and left with nothing to do. He is on his smartphone using his Twitter account @Red_Star_07 to Tweet restaurant reviews and odd bits of news to his small audience. He soon gets a tip on the Noriko case when an old university friend of Akahoshi’s sends him information which could lead to a scoop.
His old friend’s name is Risako Kano (Renbutsu). She harboured a crush on him and it turns out that she was a co-worker of Noriko’s. Her inside tip is that a dowdy co-worker named Miki Jono (Inoue) had a grudge against Noriko.
Risako clues Akahoshi into the gossip at the cosmetics company. Products were being stolen and Miki was massively unpopular, a loner who didn’t compare to the perfect Noriko who had recently stolen Miki’s boyfriend. As Akahoshi digs deeper the media frenzy begins as Akahoshi reveals the revelations on television shows and over the internet. Miki’s friends, family and anybody even vaguely associated with her start Tweeting, calling and giving their opinion on if she is a killer and how she did it as Miki coming under internet-fuelled suspicion of Noriko’s murder. As the rumours come out, Miki looks like a prime suspect and a witch hunt ensues…
This is a reconstruction
The Snow White Murder Case is based on a novel by Kanae Minamoto, one of Japan’s foremost thriller writers who has had her novels A Chorus of Angels, Confessions and Penance turned into television and film. This film is adapted by Nakamura’s regular screenwriter Tamio Hayashi. It seems like the perfect title for Nakamura and Hayashi and their predilection for making films which feature nebulous plot points and a shifting narrative that comes into focus as the characterisation slowly changes and the ‘truth’ comes into focus.
The Snow White Murder Case is like a modern day morality tale about the poisonous effects of gossip and how the power of social media pumps up a guy’s pride and the hubris he suffers blinds him to the pitfalls of the medium.
Right now, I’m the only person in the world who is closing in on the dark crime.
Akahoshi is a young guy just out of university with only a temp job at a tabloid television programme. He is left out of the action of the news reports and the senior director is irritated by his presence. With nothing to do, he is strapped to his smart-phone cultivating his Twitter account and Tweeting his restaurant reviews. It is the only place he gets taken seriously as anything like a journalist.
Twitter has that power. With a series of Tweets you can appear interesting. With the right set of Tweets you can be famous. The news media are all over social networks but for a generation of young people raised on, and addicted to, social media they can use it to carve niche for themselves in traditional media and Akahoshi is one who senses this opportunity.
The murder case tip-off from his friend is his big chance to impress his bosses and maybe secure a permanent position with the production company. He has the bit between his teeth and one can sense his excitement as he drives to murder scenes and takes his Canon DV camera to interview anybody with any connection to Miki.
He enthusiastically gathers every slice of steaming gossip in an example of reckless sticky journalism to create a tale based on awfully flimsy circumstantial evidence to create hilariously tawdry and lurid reconstructions of the crime for his segment on a trashy TV programme.
As we see him get his ‘evidence’ we witness the build up to Noriko’s disappearance and parts from Miki’s childhood from different perspectives as characters are built up for the programme for a trial conducted by media. Each person remembers different things, Miki’s isolation and odd behaviour from her childhood to the fateful night and everything plays out differently. Some remember Miki as a loner and miserable while others may remember her as a good friend. Akahoshi, desperate to make his stories stand up, engages in a lot of character assassination and uses the worst rumours to further his truth.
Everybody has a tale to tell because they all want to be linked to the story. Every interviewee is very much aware of the mechanics of the media and loves getting some fame. Worryingly, Akahoshi never once questions whether any of the sources are trustworthy but he’s committed. There’s too much at stake. Everyone across the country, from salarymen to mothers nursing babies, is fascinated by the case and wants to join in the hunt for the murderer and take part in the media trial. It can make or break Akahoshi. With every tweet and TV show his enthusiasm exposes his status-anxiety and an incredible lack of ethics and he sets himself up for a hard fall.
The audience is aware of the hollowness of the stories and there is a lot of black comedy in seeing scenes play out bathetically in sly slices of satire. We see the inner workings of the television industry, the schlocky reconstructions and the silly allegations, the overblown evidence of wrong-doing, the ‘experts’ who read scripted lines, the variety shows with lurid on-screen text and pixelated faces, but what haunts the most is the way the media adapts anything, including a person’s life, to create the narrative that it wants and the growing sense of a media storm brewing where everyone’s voice drowns out the real truth.
None of this would mean anything if the women at the centre of the case were one-dimensional.
Not being unique is what makes her unique
For two-thirds of the film Miki is painted as a mystery figure capable of evil acts (including curses!), but the audience gradually learns she is not the witch that Akahoshi paints her out to be. Every bit of evidence he gathers is flawed in some way, some of the sources are unreliable which makes the murder plot Akahoshi constructs also unreliable and meeting the real Miki leads to the heart strings being tugged.
As we learn more about Miki, the film begins to show something of a warm emotional core (which is absent from other adaptations of Kanae’s works and makes this film more enjoyable) because the suspect is less an evil witch and more a quiet girl who has suffered a string of bad luck. It turns out that she is not a loner with a grudge but just very shy.
Mao Inoue playing a plain girl seems laughable but she manages to do it. The conservative clothes and plain ponytail go some way but it’s the physical performance.
She has the look of hesitancy and nervousness that accompanies those not used to taking centre stage. Her smile is hard won and she is reserved but if one breaks through they find a genuinely nice girl, indeed, an innocent who makes the idea that she committed the crime absurd. She is revealed to be a good and loyal friend with the sort of lack of sophistication in some areas that makes her feel natural and even unworldly at points, someone who can forget their troubles with something simple like music, someone still in love with fairy tales well past the point most people would have stopped reading them. She is just a generally nice person and one who can easily be taken advantage of.
All of the bad things that people remember about her emerge from honest mistakes misinterpreted by others, men who view her sexually and a threat to their status, women who are competitive with her in the office space. But there are flashes of danger, moments when reality makes her act out in certain ways such as speeding in her car or openly grumbling. She is complicated like most people are.
This sharp sort of change of perspective extends to Noriko who is not as innocent as the testimonies claim. She, with her flawless beauty and clever, manipulative ways is resented by the other office ladies and a poisonous atmosphere of rumour and truth is revealed.
The more Miki’s character is revealed, her entire background and the more we see how insidiously evil gossip can be and how social media perpetuates this. The trial by media is shown up as being a highly destructive force. For all of the talk of social media, Nakamura and Minato know where their loyalty lies and that is with the flesh and blood friends people make, not the anonymous people online. When Miki’s true friend is revealed it opens the film to an emotionally moving set of end sequences which reveal how strong and how important friendship can be, something Akahoshi might want to learn about.
Disappear into a fantasy world
Overall, the movie is enjoyable. Nakamura brilliantly brings to life this tale of truth and rumour and imaginatively picks apart social media and its problems by crafting scenes where people are forever on their mobiles, playing games where Twitter comments and constant chatter drown out the truth. He specialises in tales with late twists and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Here, the twists are perfectly poised and executed and they create a gripping story with a satisfying and well-earned emotional pay-off. Some may be disappointed by the mystery but the journey getting to the answer is more important and the truth revealed rings true.
The truth is a relative term which makes the navigation of the film’s events feel like breaking through the wall of an echo chamber of rumours to get to an absolute truth. This is a perfect sensation for a story which investigates the modern malady of gossip amplified through the mega-phone effect of social media and how it can destroy lives. Through a story which is equal parts satire and crime thriller and through the actions and fate of Akahoshi and Miki, The Snow White Murder Case is a highly enjoyable deliciously dark, bitter, serious and amusing critique of fame, social media, and gossip.