Suspect X -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- A murder is solved in "Suspect X," but it is not exactly a "whodunit" or even a "whydunit." It's a "how-to-undo-it." The culprit is revealed from the start, so riveting tension arises from how she tries to get off the hook. A detective film that ticks without the standard ploy of red herrings, "Suspect X" is also a poignant study of a lonely genius tormented by obsessive love.

Directed by Hiroshi Nishitani, the film is based on his hit Fuji TV series "Galileo." The film reigned at Japan's boxoffice for three weeks and had a good run at some other Asian markets; elsewhere, it makes a good fit for genre festivals and midnight-movie slots.

Yasuko Hanaoka (Yasuko Matsuyuki) is a single mother running a modest takeout joint. One day, her ex-husband harasses her and their teenage daughter. He gets strangled in a scuffle. The Hanaokas' gruff neighbor, Ishigami (Shinichi Tsutumi), overhears everything. To Yasuko's surprise, Ishigami offers to help, teaching them how to cover up the crime down to every minute detail. However, they are up against the formidable investigative alliance of detective Utsumi (Kou Shibasaki) and Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama), alias "Galileo" -- a physics professor, master sleuth and Ishigami's university classmate.

Although the film's investigative procedure lacks the intellectual stimulus of the TV series' physics-derived deductions, Nishitani has done a smooth job in condensing Keigo Higashino's best-seller without losing psychological details. He elicits sympathy for the frustrations of Ishigami, a mathematical genius wasting his life in a dreary prep school teaching post while his intellectual equal Yukawa rises in the rarefied halls of academia. At the same time, he keeps us guessing about his motives as he treads the line between stalker and admirer.

Utsumi and Yukawa's affectionate bickering keeps the mood afloat in between pulse-quickening mind games. But when it comes to dramatic heft, these two recede to the background while Tsutsumi touches chords of deep feeling interpreting Ishigami's emotional quandary.

It is up to the audience to reconcile Ishigami's coldly logical, even amoral mind with his self-martyring, arguably masochistic love. In his last scene, where he breaks down in tears, Tsutsumi conveys despair with shattering force. Matsuyuki, who plays a hunted doe up to this point, responds with the same intensity.

Despite claims of a big budget, the production quality looks like run-of-the-mill TV fare, with mediocre cinematography (except for one tautly edited snow scene that achieves the menacing effect intended) and under-scored music.

Production companies: Amuse Pictures, Cine Bazar, Fuji Television Network, S.D.P.

Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Yasuko Matsuyuki
Director: Hiroshi Nishitani
Screenwriter: Yasushi Fukuda
Based on the novel by: Keigo Higashino
Producer: Chihiro Kameyama
Planner: Oota Ryo
Director of Photography: Hideo Yamamoto
Production Designer: Kyoko Heya
Music: Masaharu Fukuyama, Yuugo Kanno
Editor: Masaaki Yamamoto
Sales: Pony Canyon
No rating, 128 minutes