Midnight Eagle

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Tokyo International Film Festival

TOKYO -- "Midnight Eagle", the Opening Film of Tokyo International Film Festival directed by Izuru Narushima, flies on the wings of marketing clout by its producer Shochiku and financier Universal Pictures Japan.

With Yasuo Hasegawa as co-scriptwriter, the film borrows elements from his two previous screenplays "Whiteout" and "Aegis." Like the former, "Midnight Eagle" sets its action within a visually stunning backdrop of blinding blizzards on high altitudes. And like the latter, it is also a spy thriller that fuels Japanese anxiety about the North Korean nuclear threat. A few Asian countries including South Korea and Hong Kong have bought the film, and US release has also been confirmed.

Yet, for an action suspense movie, "Midnight Eagle" has plenty of panoramic shots of snowcapped mountains, but precious little action. Weighed down by inept direction, droning dialogue and a heavy-handed political agenda, winning audience popularity may still be an uphill hike.

"Midnight Eagle's" protagonist Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Ozawa) is a war photographer who has become so sick of the battlefield that he returns home to Japan's Northern Alps to aim his lens at stars, while letting his wife pine away her life and leaving his son to the care of journalist sister-in-law Keiko (Yuko Takeuchi)

Ironically, he discovers a military crisis in his own backyard, when a plane crash is captured on one of his stellar snapshots. The plane turns out to be a US stealth bomber code named "Midnight Eagle" which carries a deadly nuclear weapon. Earlier, the US base in Yokota was trespassed by enemy agents. While the prime minister and his cabinet try to crisis manage without help from America (a point emphasized strongly in the film), Nishizaki's college alumni, reporter Ichiro Ochiai, drags him back to the site to get the scoop of his life. Ochiai has also tipped Keiko's boss on the case, and she is sent on the trail of escaped secret agent Hirata. By now the mountain is swarming with infiltrators with their eyes on the bomber. Nishizaki and Ochiai find themselves allied with Maj. Saeki, the sole survivor from a unit dispatched by Japan's Self-Defense Force on a mission to save the nation.

It may be cliched but an action movie won't rock without a strong villain for the hero to face off. In "Midnight Eagle", the enemy spies are covered head to toe in white ski-suits and masks, looking completely indistinguishable from the good guys of the "Self-Defense Force". How they got into the country so easily is never explained, and it doesn't reflect well on Japan's reconnaissance system. Worse still, their nationality is not even disclosed though Japanese audiences will immediately see through the reference to "the Peninsular" as North Korea. For an overseas audience, this is frustratingly elliptical and makes it hard to identify with the protagonists.

The main cast, usually watchable in the hands of other directors, have a narrow range of emotions to work with. From Nishizaki's son to the cabinet, everyone wears a worried expression throughout.

For pacifist liberals, this film may feel like a public relations campaign to recruit members of the Self-Defense Force as the protagonist's righteous indignation against the inhumanity of war eventually morphs into a justification for the use of napalm.

MIDNIGHT EAGLE
Shochiku Co./Universal Pictures/Geneon Entertainment/TV Asahi/Asahi Broadcasting Corp./M-Tere (Nagoya TV)/Hokkaido TV/Niigata TV 21/Kyushu Asahi Broadcasting Co. Ltd/Imagica/Unsen/Destiny
Crew:_Director: Izuru Narushima
Writer: Yasuo Hasegawa, Kenzaburo Iida
Based on the novel by: Tetsuo Takashima
Producers: Shohei Kotaki, Kanjiro Sakura
Director ofÅ@photography: Hideo Yamamoto
Production designer: Hajime Oikawa
Music: Takeshi Kobayashi
Editor: William Anderson
Cast:
Yuji Nishizaki: Takao Osawa
Keiko Arisawa: Yuko Takeuchi
Shinichiro Ochiai: Hiroshi Tamaki
Akihiko Saeki: Eisaku Yoshida
Prime Minister Watarase: Tatsuya Fuji
Running time -- 131 minutes
No MPAA rating
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