Movie Review: The Crimes That Bind (祈りの幕が下りる時)

Americans, it seems, aren’t the only ones who like to reboot old TV shows. Two years ago we had the second feature film adaptation of the popular Japanese TV series, MIDNIGHT DINER (Shinya Shokudō/深夜食堂). Now, we have the same for the 2010 Japanese TV series, THE NEWCOMER (Shinzanmono/新参者), a popular cop show about a detective who solves murders in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district. This time around though, the “Newcomer” moniker has been dropped because the detective in question, Kyoichiro Kara, is no longer the new kid on the block. The actor, Hiroshi Abe/阿部寛, is now in his mid-50s and it would be a stretch in credibility to keep his character inexperienced.

As THE CRIMES THAT BIND opens, Michiko Oshitani, a middle-aged woman from Shiga Prefecture near Kyoto, is found strangled to death in a Tokyo apartment and the apartment’s owner, Mutsuo Koshikawa, has disappeared. The young police detective who is assigned to the case can’t seem to find any connection between the two people but, with the help of Detective Kara (who just so happens to be his cousin), they soon learn that Oshitani came to Tokyo to visit theatre director Hiromi Asai (Nanako Matsushima/松嶋菜々子). The two women knew each other having graduated from the same school but there doesn’t seem to be any connection between Asai and Koshikawa. When the detectives find a calendar amongst Koshikawa’s belongings that has the names of 12 bridges surrounding the Nihonbashi area of Tokyo written on it, Kara believes that Oshitani’s death and Koshikawa’s disappearance are connected to his own mother’s disappearance years earlier.

It’s easy to understand how Shinzanmono could have been such a hit. Abe, who was once a model, is still highly photogenic and director Katsuo Fukuzawa (福澤克雄) takes every opportunity to remind viewers of that with close-up after close-up of the actor’s face. But Abe, to his credit, is no acting slouch. In his 30-year career, he has appeared in over 125 movie and TV productions.

The film is based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾). The title literally means “When the Praying Curtain Falls”. (I get the falling curtain part but not the praying part.) Higashino also wrote the source novel to the original series. THE CRIMES THAT BIND does have some nice noirish scenes – though not enough of them – as Kara digs deeper into the murder-mystery that somehow relates to his mother but, unfortunately, for the most part, it’s pretty standard fare. Disappointingly, the story doesn’t allow viewers to play along, opting instead to reveal character motivations too easily. As a result, viewers (and Kara) know the “who” far too early. The “why” and the “how” come at the film’s climax but, by that point, any interest in knowing those answers has dissipated. It also doesn’t help that the reason for Oshitani’s major life choice is about as flimsy as a piece of wet rice paper. And don’t get me started on the illegal search and seizure that we get to witness. I think the Japanese courts would take serious issue with that one.

Fans of the series will probably be quite happy seeing their handsome hero back on the big screen but for the rest of us, this film is rather lightweight given its genre. I’ll take more stories about Master and MIDNIGHT DINER any day.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, May 24th at 8:30 am HK time!

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