MW -- Film Review


Bottom Line: Another classic manga bites the dust in an action-oriented, hatchet-job screen adaptation.

BUCHEON, South Korea -- In "MW," a victim of gas poisoning vents his anger initially on the perpetrators, then on the whole world. Director Hitoshi Iwamoto claimed he was aiming for a Hollywood feel in the production, hence the choice of U.S.-trained cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka. Indeed, the film is mainly preoccupied with car chases and expensive aerial shots inserted into a conventional crime plot with paper-thin character development.

It is hard to imagine what "MW" can offer to the overseas market that Hollywood blockbusters or kick-ass actioners from Thailand or Hong Kong can't deliver.

The original manga by Osamu Tezuka (hailed as the father of Japanese manga) created a dastardly evil yet dangerously seductive anti-hero whose moral blindness deepens the complexity of its '70s political context of the Vietnam War and Japanese student movement against American military presence. "MW" was significant for marking Tezuka's stylistic transition to gritty, cynical stuff.

Iwamoto and writer Tetsuya Oishi's film adaptation, on the other hand, is a square-shooting action thriller that takes one's mind off burning issues rather than make one ponder them.

As a boy, the protagonist Michio Yuki (Hiroshi Tamaki) and his friend Garai (Takayuki Yamada) witnessed a gas leak that wiped out the inhabitants of an island. The gas called "MW" was developed for chemical warfare at the U.S. military base in Japan. The gas caused damage to his brain nerve, thus obliterating his sense of right and wrong.

Yuki grows up to become a high-flying banker, all the while pulling strings to exact merciless revenge on the politicians and businessmen guilty of hushing up the incident. Since he is descended from an illustrious Kabuki family in the manga, he cross-dresses, disseminates and charms like the talented Mr. Ripley.

The film version dilutes his psychopathic nature and focuses on his fight against government corruption and American imperialism, almost turning him into a crusader of justice. It also leaves out the juicy parts like his ruthless seductions of women and his homosexual relationship with Garai, who has been ordained into priesthood.

Tamaki's gaunt, yet chiseled features make him look the part of Yuki even without the manga-version's '70s sideburns. He also conveys a modicum of inner turmoil and fanaticism with his searing, insomniac eyes peering out of hollowed sockets. Yamada's role as a pivotal character is seriously compromised though since the dramatic conflict between his desire for Yuki and his conscience is has been toned down to a wishy-washy friendship.

A chaotic chase sequence through the streets of Bangkok in the first act has the raciness of an old Bond movie. After this, the pace totally sags until the last act when Yuki causes mayhem at the U.S. air base. Even here, certain connecting scenes (such as how he got in, how he found what he wanted, how he was detected) are missing, giving the impression of a hastily scrapped together finale.

An "Omen"-like choral and orchestral score gives the film a pompous, old-fashioned feel.

Venue: Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival

Production companies: Gaga Unsen, Amuse Soft Entertainment, Studio Swan Production (IMJ-Entertainment), MW Production Committee
Cast: Hiroshi Tamaki, Takayuki Yamada, Renshi Ishibashi, Yuriko Ishida
Director: Hitoshi Iwamoto
Screenwriter: Tetsuya Oishi
Based on the manga by: Osamu Tezuka
Producer: Shinzo Masuhashi
Executive producer: Toshihiro Kitto
Director of photography: Takuro Ishizaka
Production designer: Kikuo Ota
Music: Yoshihiro Ike
Editor: Masashi Asahara
Sales: Nippon Television Network Corporation
No rating, 129 minutes