'Masquerade Hotel' ('Masukaredo hoteru'): Film Review

Courtesy HIFF 2019
Goes down easy.

Masayuki Suzuki’s amusing murder mystery capitalizes on an impressive Tokyo location and an engaging cast to weave a tale of deliberate deception and elusive romance.

Following up his previous feature about unexpectedly magical lodgings located in the historic district of Kyoto (2017’s Honnouji Hotel), Masayuki Suzuki shifts to Tokyo for Masquerade Hotel, an amusing whodunit that recently played the Hawaii International Film Festival. Sleek and polished, this is a relatively charming but not especially challenging murder mystery that clocks in at two-plus hours, which may limit overseas options mostly to smaller screens.

Investigating a string of three brutal murders, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department concludes that they’re all the work of a mysterious serial killer. Although there’s little evidence connecting the attacks, Inspector Kosuke Nitta (Takuya Kimura) discovers that notecards with GPS coordinates found on the victims provide the exact location of the subsequent killing, pointing to the downtown Hotel Cortesia as the next target.

A grand edifice in the European tradition, the classically elegant Cortesia prides itself on impeccable style and a bespoke customer service experience. Front desk clerk Naomi Yamagishi (Masami Nagasawa) provides concierge-quality support for guests, always recognizing that each visitor arrives projecting an ideal version of themselves and that it’s the staff’s responsibility to respect their preferences. Nitta, however, is trained to unmask any suspect identified by an investigation, so when he’s paired to work with Yamagishi after a special police task force goes undercover at the hotel, sparks are sure to fly. Indeed, Yamagishi dislikes the unkempt Nitta almost as soon as she lays eyes on him, insisting that he cut his unruly hair and improve his surly attitude if he’s going serve under her tutelage.

Suzuki skillfully mines the humor throughout Michitaka Okada’s script (adapted from Keigo Higashino’s best-selling novel) by consistently thrusting Yamagishi and Nitta into direct conflict, whether debating his questionable wardrobe choices or arguing over their differing approaches to accommodating guests who may represent persons of interest. Once he passes inspection, though, Nitta takes up his post at the front desk, surveying new arrivals for any suspicious activity and assisting his new supervisor with attending to a variety of demanding and often unreasonable customers.

In particular, Yamagishi must adjust her approach to assist blind Mrs. Katagiri (Takako Matsu), an elderly woman who refuses Nitta’s assistance and insists on repeatedly calling Yamagishi to her room. Meanwhile, Nitta eliminates numerous guests as suspects, but only after some of them deliberately attempt to impose upon his limited patience. After several days working the lobby, Nitta gradually shares more information with Yamagishi about the case, which has him completely stumped, spurring her to offer some unexpected insights. In reality, though, he’s no closer to catching the murderer than before deciphering the cleverly conceived string of clues that led to the Hotel Cortesia.

Kimura (star of Suzuki’s Hero and the subsequent hit TV series) makes every smirk and shrug count as Nitta probes for any weaknesses in Yamagishi’s defenses, often deliberately provoking her. His investigatory acumen remains somewhat harder to discern, however, as clues to solving the murders begin to emerge mostly due to the efforts of Nhose (Fumiyo Kohinata), his partner on the force. Although Yamagishi faces no end of frustration dealing with Nitta, she struggles not to let it show, as Nagasawa’s frequently knitted brow and pursed lips clearly convey. Once they’ve adapted to one another’s divergent approaches however, the tension refocuses on their unspoken attraction when romance sparks between the two.

The big reveal that finally discloses the identify of the killer flows organically from a variety of inciting incidents arising throughout the pic’s early going, but proves too insignificant to support the weight of the narrative. The filmmakers’ decision to abandon an intriguing subplot involving the criminal collaboration of dark web co-conspirators also undercuts the outcome at a critical stage.

Suzuki opts for a fluid, elegant look that relies as much on the film’s well-appointed hotel sets and precise production design as it does on smoothly unobtrusive camerawork, opulently saturated lighting and Naoki Sato’s bouncy score.

Production companies: Cine Bazar, Fuji Television Movies
Distributor: Toho Co.
Cast: Takuya Kimura, Masami Nagasawa, Takako Matsu, Ryo Ishibashi, Fumiyo Kohinata
Director: Masayuki Suzuki
Screenwriter: Michitaka Okada
Producers: Juichi Uehara, Kazutoshi Wadakura
Executive producers: Minami Ichikawa, Takashi Ishihara, Nobuoki Kinoshita, Hirotsugu Usui
Director of photography: Shoji Ehara
Production designer: Yoji Abeki
Editor: Takuya Taguchi
Music: Naoki Sato
Venue: Hawaii International Film Festival (Spotlight on Japan)
Sales: Pony Canyon

133 minutes