The Triumphant General Rouge -- Film Review

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UDINE, Italy -- Hospital sleuths Taguchi (Yuko Takeuchi) and Shirataki (Hiroshi Abe) reunite to crack another murder case in Yoshihiro Nakamura's follow-up to his hit medical mystery "The Glorious Team Batista" (2008). However, the real culprit of "The Triumphant General Rouge" is Japan's profit-minded health care practices. This gives the movie greater social relevance, but less of its antecedent's surgically precise plotting and, inevitably, weaker tension.

In Japan, frequent newspaper reports of patients being refused admission to hospitals several times in a row conferred enough social verisimilitude on "Triumphant" to draw 1.2 million viewers. There is a minor market in ancillary, particularly in Asia, for "ER" or "House" fans who like TV-style human drama injected with medical jargon.

The film reintroduces Dr. Taguchi, resident psychiatrist of Tojo University Hospital, now promoted to Ethics Committee Chairperson. She presides over an inquiry into suspected bribery of ER chief Dr. Hayami (Masato Sakai) by a medical supplies company. Further implicating him is the death of the company's salesman on hospital premises.

Continuing "Glorious Team's" flippant belittling of female professionals, Taguchi is as ditzy, socially diffident and squeamish about blood as ever. Again she is out of her depth in the situation. Again, Health and Labor Ministry officer Shirataki rescues the distressed damsel, not on a white steed but in a leg cast and wheelchair.

The duo's investigations dredge up a cesspool of factionalism, power-mongering and malpractice that bear shades of Satsuo Yamamoto's "The Great White Tower" (the mother of all Japanese medical satires) in a current setting. Hayami who is nicknamed "General Rouge" for his commanding role in rescuing a deluge of fire victims in a sudden catastrophe, is always on the war path against other departments. Is he a saint or hypocrite?

While "Glorious Team" succeeds in mounting tension by focusing on the 'sealed room murder mystery' set in the rarefied field of heart surgery, "Triumphant" sprawls all over the place plot-wise and set-wise. In fact, crime-solving becomes less and less relevant as the narrative is taken over by character entanglements and ethical debates.

The ending, contrary to the convention of mysteries, does not hinge on revelations, but lurches into schmaltzy melodrama. As a crowd scene involving hundreds of extras though, it is orchestrated with technical aplomb and achieves pulse-quickening tension that was previously lacking.

As Taguchi and Shirataki, Takeuchi and Abe turn up their endearing horseplay a little, backed by veteran ensemble acting. However, one feels that the whole cast is going through the motions, and would have generated the same repertory group dynamics whether they play lawyers in a courtroom drama, or sushi chefs in a food-themed TV series.

Adapted from a novel by Takeru Kaido, a practicing medic who also wrote "Glorious Team," the film is dead on at getting the technicalities and the war-zone atmosphere of emergency wards. But don't expect the political polemics and dirt-digging of "Sicko."
Although the film diagnoses the symptoms of corruption and politics in the medical profession, it never cuts deep into the cancerous core of the problems, or traces any of this to government negligence or complicity.

Instead, the finale reassuringly makes all characters put aside personal acrimony to respond to their vocational calling in a bombastic, typically Japanese celebration of team spirit.

Forget that some of these figures are depicted as having put personal gain before patients' needs for decades. Such idealization of medical practitioners all but cancels out the initial realism and dramatic impact of an individual crusade against an ailing system.

Venue: Udine Far East Film Festival
Production: Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), Toho Company, Cross Media, TC Entertainment, Stardust Pictures, Mainichi Broadcasting System, Asahi Shimbun
Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Hiroshi Abe, Masato Sakai, Michiko Haneda
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Hiroshi Saito
Based on the novel by: Takeru Kaido
Executive producer: Yasuhiro Mase
Director of photography: Yasushi Sasakibara
Art director: Koichi Kanemasa
Music: Naoki Sato
Costume designer: Yukiko Sairu
Editor: Hirohide Abe
Sales: TBS, Toho Company
No rating, 122 minutes
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