Nobody to Watch Over Me -- Film Review

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PALM SPRINGS -- "Nobody to Watch Over Me" is a thriller for the TMZ era, though that doesn't quite catch the insane media frenzy surrounding the family of a young man arrested for two brutal murders. Director/co-writer Ryoichi Kimizuka delivers a fast-paced film that is as scary as it is riveting. While the situation the film dramatizes may be more prevalent in certain cultures than others, "Nobody" certainly condemns the media and the Internet's incessant hunger for information at the expense of privacy, due process and human dignity.

The film is Japan's foreign-language Oscar submission, following that country's surprise win last year for "Departures." It certainly looks as if "Nobody" could be among the final five nominees this year. The film should perform well both in and outside of Asia thanks to its breathless style and superior performances by Koichi Sato, a four-time winner of the Japanese Academy Award, and a terrific teen actress named Mirai Shida.

There might even be a Yank remake possibility here, though some aspects of the story would have to change to fit the American media scene.

According to this film, Japan's angry and anonymous Internet culture can outrace even the most voracious news journalists in collecting information and exposing people's lives to scrutiny with no concern for truth or justice. Our paparazzi and gossip bloggers seem tame by comparison.

Tokyo police are so used to this phenomenon, in fact, that when they arrest a teenager for murder, several cops are assigned to protect his family from the media onslaught. This does little good. The family essentially crumbles under this siege of unwanted scrutiny.

The focus is on a cop, Katsuura (Sato), who is himself dealing with family and professional issues that have left him a nervous wreck. He is assigned to keep the 15-year-old daughter, Saori (Shida), in protective custody from the mob.

They move from one location to another but Internet "journalists," only steps behind these two, post photos, addresses and vile screeds against the girl and her family.

The bloggers' righteous indignation over the murders frees them to link everyone connected to the suspect -- his family and even the cops -- to the crime. Katsuura makes an interesting point what he says that what these Internet vultures seek is "'Net fame."

Kimizuka revs the action at a swift pace. Naoki Kayano's hand-held cameras and Junnosuke Hogaki's smooth yet pulsating editing push the story ever forward even as the director finds time to investigate the kinds of details and emotional conflicts that make a drama feel lived-in.

Other than an unnecessary nervous tick the film gives to Katsuura, Sato gives a restrained, thoroughly believable performance as a man feeling pressure from all sides -- from his estranged family, his inpatient bosses and the rapacious "'Net famers."

The greatest pressure, though, comes from Saori, who simply looks at the cop with eyes that condemn. He is the only visible symbol of her family's destruction, so despite the fact she needs him for her own safety, she heaps abuse on his head.

On all levels from writing, direction and acting to the behind-the-scenes chores, "Nothing" is a completely successful movie. While no art-house film, it nevertheless manages to say a lot about contemporary society and its obsession with "information."

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Production company: Fuji Television Network
Cast: Koichi Sato, Mirai Shida, Ryuhei Matsuda, Yuriko Ishida, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Shiro Sano
Director: Ryoichi Kimizuka
Screenwriters: Ryoichi Kimizuka, Satoshi Suzuki
Producers: Hirotsugu Usui, Yoshihiko Taneda
Director of photography: Naoki Kayano
Production designer: Osamu Yamaguchi
Music: Takatsugu Muramatsu
Editor: Junnosuke Hogaki
Sales: Toho Co.
No rating, 118 minutes
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