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One minute, the audience is treated to “Amelie”-like outbursts of cute, juvenile whimsy, the next minute, they are exposed to frightening images of evil and bloodshed. The impact is as nasty as being given Halloween candy with bits of razor-blade inside.
Eye-catching production, attractive (but bland young leads) and a smattering of nifty CGI effects should help “A Liar” bluff its way to a healthy domestic boxoffice and reasonable overseas ancillary. Responses to the film might be divided between those who admire director-writer Natsuki Seta’s stylistic audacity, and those who find the whole overwrought conceit and the characters’ roller-coaster of emotions artificial.
The central characters are traumatized by their childhood experience of being held captive by a psychopath. So they withdraw into their own make-believe world. Mi-kun (Shota Sometani) becomes a compulsive liar. Ma-chan (Aya Omasa) develops a short fuse and a violent streak. Ten years pass before they meet again. They form an ersatz family with two kids Ma-chan kidnapped.
The world they inhabit is like a kindergarten for adults. Ma-chan’s smart apartment is strewn with toys. Kota, the kidnapped boy, is tied to a string of teddy bears. Ma-chan smashes things and attacks people like a heroine in a Korean romantic comedy, and every time Mi-kun says something, he turns aside to the camera and says, “It’s a lie.” Even their doctor (Kyoka Suzuki) and a policewoman handling a case of serial murders (Natsuki Kamiyashiro) mumble baby-talk and act like fruitcakes.
All this could get tiresome quickly if not for the alternating flashbacks, which hold back nothing in depicting what an evil, sick mind is capable of. The flashbacks throw light on why the protagonists behave as they do and Seta stages them with high tension and maximum contrast in mise-en-scene and atmosphere.
While Mi-kun has been built up to be the prime suspect for the serial murders that the policewoman has been tracking, the final reel uncovers everything in a brilliant twist that could have impressed more if it didn’t get hijacked by all the earlier tomfoolery.
Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival, Japanese Eyes
Sales: Kadokawa Pictures Inc.
Production: Kadokawa Pictures Inc., NTT Docomo, Asuki Media Works, Stardust Music Publishing
Cast: Aya Omasa, Shota Sometani, Kyoka Suzuki, Tomoko Tabata
Director-screenwriter: Natsuki Seta
Based on the novel by: Hitoma Iruma
Producer: Tsuyoshi Kobayashi
Director of photography: Yuta Tsukinaga
Production designer: Michitoshi Kurokawa
Costume designer: Sayaka Takahashi
Music: Misato Kinoshita
Editor: Yusuke Yamada
No rating, 110 minutes
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