DAY FOUR November 6, 2005
THE SUSPECT Crosses the Pacific, Samurai Spirit Intact
by Peter Martin
Quiet, stubborn and honorable in a dishonorable world, Chief Inspector Shinji Muroi could best be described as a modern-day samurai. Ryoichi Kimizuka, writer/director of THE SUSPECT, would be pleased.
"I crafted the character around the image the worldwide audience has of the samurai," Kimizuka says. "Muroi has the warrior mentality or spirit. Among Japanese people, there is a mystical feeling about the samurai, and we look up to them. I made this movie thinking it would be better if there were people like that still around."
The character of Shinji Muroi, played by Toshiro Yanagiba, first appeared in BAYSIDE SHAKEDOWN, a wildly popular television series in Japan. When a movie version was produced in 1998, it too proved successful, topping the domestic box office. At the time, "it was unthinkable to have a Japanese film in the top 10," says producer Chihiro Kameyana. After the movie's success, "audiences started to realize that there can be [local] films like that, that can excite them and get them in the movie theaters." A sequel released in 2003 became the highest grossing live action feature in Japanese history, and a third film in the series, THE NEGOTIATOR, quickly rose to #1 in the charts earlier this year.
THE SUSPECT kicks off with Muroi in custody. He's been arrested on a trumped-up charge arranged by his superiors because he re-opened a murder case they want hushed up. The film expertly traces the bureaucratic in-fighting that threatens the pursuit of justice as Muroi fights to clear his name and solve the case.
Director Kimizuka says he was interested in "playing up the contrasts, in terms of the light and the dark, visually, as well as (in) the acting. I was going for the quiet and subdued versus the loud and obnoxious."
The film--which has its North American Premiere today, November 6, and also screens the following day at noon--mixes action, humor and uncommon style in a manner that would seem tailor-made to have a broad appeal beyond Japan, but that wasn't a consideration for Kimizuka when writing the script. "The story always comes first," he insists. "It's all about the story and how it speaks to Japanese audiences, but not to the point where we're trying to appeal to a global audience."
"It's not really thinking about Hollywood movies or the American audience," adds producer Kameyana, "it's about the Hollywood movies that are shown in Japan, because that's the same audience that we're showing our movies to. I want to see how our movies are compared to STAR WARS or THE MATRIX or MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and see how our movies come off."
As he looks out at a panoramic view of Los Angeles from the Rooftop Village, Kimizuka reflects on his career. "As a writer, 10 years ago when I was trying to write screenplays, I was behind the times. It was cooler, more desirable, to write television shows. Back then, filmmakers were making films that were very conscientious about what it means to be Japanese. The people who are making films today are the people who grew up watching those movies, and they're saying: 'You know what? That's not how you make a good movie. You can still make a good movie where the setting is Japan, but it's about the story.' That's why I think the level of (Japanese) films has risen. Better movies are being made."
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