'Killing for the Prosecution' ('Kensatsu Gawa no Zainin'): Film Review | Hawaii 2018

Courtesy of Toho Pictures
Overstuffed and under-motivated.

Veteran Japanese filmmaker Masato Harada attempts to pull together all of the disparate issues surrounding a sprawling murder investigation that reaches to the highest levels of government.

Following a run of sci-fi and samurai titles, writer-director Masato Harada takes on a complex crime drama targeting interlocking murder investigations, adapted from a best-selling novel by Shusuke Shizukui. Harada’s dense script is populated with noble prosecutors and outrageous criminals, but never settles on a specific point of view that clearly articulates the significance of these relationships, leaving audiences to mentally assemble the pieces in a process that’s more laborious than entertaining. 

Shortly after completing special training for an elite position with the Tokyo prosecutor’s office, Okino (Kazunari Ninomiya) accepts an assignment in the violent crimes unit under his former mentor Mogami (Takuya Kimura), a hard-charging career attorney with a stellar reputation for crime solving. Their investigation into the stabbing death of an elderly money lender and his wife turns up a group of unsavory suspects, including Yumioka (Koji Ohkura), a short-order cook who’s an expert with kitchen knives, and Matsukura (Yoshi Sako), a shiftless, middle-aged loner with a manic look in his eyes.

Mogami tells Okino that Matsukura was a prior suspect in the rape and killing of high school student Yuki (Yasumasa Ohba) years earlier when he and his best friend Tanno (Takehiro Hira) were in law school and lived at the boarding house run by her family. Tanno, now a legislative representative accused of graft in a wide ranging influence-peddling scandal, has been relying on Mogami’s inside tips to remain one step ahead of an indictment that appears increasingly imminent. Although the statute of limitations has run out on Yuki’s murder, Mogami remains convinced that Matsukura was the perp. He’s determined not to let the suspect slip away again, pressing Okino to extract a confession in Yuki’s killing that would establish Matsukura's capacity for committing the recent double-murder, setting up a trial that could send him to prison for life.

Harada’s inclination to alternate emphasis on the murder investigation with details of the cold-case killing and the ethics probe targeting Tanno gets a bit unwieldy even from the early stages, with the legislator’s career crisis appearing especially extraneous. Even honing in on Matsukura’s suspected role in the murders seems challenging, as Harada continues to introduce additional characters, motivations and subplots late in the film, including an investigative reporter working undercover in the prosecutor’s office and a small-time crook with a family connection to Mogami.

As Mogami becomes increasingly unhinged, with the investigation targeting Tanno intensifying and his obsession with Matsukura mounting, Okino gets even more focused, convinced that there’s something suspicious about Mogami’s persecution of the suspect. Although strong emotions are at play, Mogami’s manipulation of justice belies his stated motivation for seeking retribution for the murder of Yuki, emerging more as obsession than some nobler purpose. Other than his desire to impress Mogami, Okino doesn’t appear to have much motivation at all, until his loyalties dramatically shift late in the narrative.

Even these convoluted machinations are insufficient to inject much urgency into the plot, which Harada dilutes with a focus on legal maneuvering rather than the investigative tasks required to build a case against the suspects. By the time events reach their drawn-out conclusion, it’s too late to care much about the outcome, or the characters caught up in a violent prosecutor’s personal vendetta.

Production company-distributor: Toho Pictures
Cast: Takuya Kimura, Kazunari Ninomiya, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Koji Ohkura, Takehiro Hira, Yoshi Sako, Yasumasa Ohba
Director-writer: Masato Harada
Producers: Yoshihiro Sato, Hisashi Usui
Executive producer: Akihiro Yamauchi
Director of photography: Takahide Shibanushi
Production designer: Katsuhiro Fukuzawa
Editor: Eugene Harada
Music:  Harumi Fuki
Venue: Hawaii International Film Festival

123 minutes