The Snow White Murder Case: Berlin Review

An overly fussy but entirely watchable murder mystery for the Twitter age.

Best-selling Japanese author Kanae Minato gets another screen treatment courtesy of writer-director Nakamura Yoshihiro.

The folks at Twitter won't be thrilled that they're being painted as accomplices in irresponsible reporting and trials by public opinion given their plunging stock prices, but The Snow White Murder Case aims, among other things, to be the Network of the social media age. Based on the best-selling novel by Kanae Minato, whose similarly twisty Confessions was adapted into a creepy and compelling thriller in 2010 and Penance for television in 2012, Snow White packs a lot into its overstuffed frame but manages to weave a wholly contemporary mystery from ingrained concepts of female competition, the idea that the sum total of our experiences can be corrupted to fit a given narrative and, of course, that there are three sides to every story. Distributors that found success with Confessions and the recent spate of Japanese mystery adaptations (Villain, Helpless, Suspect X) will likely want to take a look at this, and the inclusion of Internet subject matter should give the film appeal across ultra-wired Asia.

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The film begins with the brutal murder of beautiful cosmetics company worker Noriko (Nanao), found burned to a crisp in the woods of a national park. With little to do other than write food reviews for his blog, a part-time television station staffer, Akahoshi (Ayano Go), takes it upon himself to investigate the crime (there are no police in Snow White) based on a tip from an old university friend, Risako (Renbutsu Misako), who worked with the victim. She points him toward the meek, unassuming and “plain” Miki (Inoue Mao, who is “plain” only in the movies). Soon enough, he’s poking around and stitching together a tale of jealousy and suppressed rage directed at a kind and popular woman. Fickle Tweeters and tabloid TV viewers pass judgment: Miki is guilty, at least for now.

But that’s just the beginning. Initially Snow White looks to be perpetuating the kind of tired tropes regarding gender roles that need to end, but as Akahoshi digs deeper the film reveals itself to be making subtle jabs at the social constructs that pit women against each other. Emi (Ono Erena) is a stereotypical gossip; Satoshi (Kaneko Nobuaki) is the man Miki and Noriko compete for. As Noriko is slowly revealed as manipulative, ambitious and bitchy for the fun of it, the film’s other main themes emerge. The thin veneer of truth in the high-speed social media era is even more fragile than in the past, and our pasts, however innocent, can come back to haunt us with a little media creativity.

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The Snow White Murder Case, for all its modernity, is far from cutting-edge cinema. Director Nakamura Yoshihiro (Golden Slumber, Fish Story) keeps things at a Filmmaking 101 level — most likely because he has to. The constant Twitter feed graphics (resulting in multiple subtitles for foreign prints) flirt with distracting on more than one occasion. There are some dodgy character motivations that range from thin at best (fear of losing a job) to illogical at worst (agreeing to murder conspiracies to see a concert), and a long stretch at the midway point that delves into Miki’s childhood would benefit from some judicious editing. It’s the kind of backstory that works better on the page, and its removal could streamline a film that already has a lot going on.

Cast: Inoue Mao, Ayano Go, Nanao, Renbutsu Misako, Kaneko Nobuaki, Ono Erena

Director: Nakamura Yoshihiro

Screenwriter: Hayashi Tamio, based on the novel by Kanae Minato 

Music: Yasukawa Goro

No rating, 126 minutes