Into the White Night: Berlin Review

A murder mystery that unfolds in small ripples ends strongly. 

The slow burn of Yoshihiro Fukagawa's big-screen adaptation of Keigo Higashino's best-seller is capped off with a devastating payoff.

BERLIN -- The destinies of a girl who schemes her way out of the slums and a boy who drops out of society are bound by an unsolved murder that scarred their childhood in Into the White Night. It is a somber love tragedy that depicts the distortion of innocence, faithfulness and love in the guise of a detective mystery. Yoshihiro Fukagawa does not display directorial flair in the early stages, playing safe with flat yet elliptical unfolding of Keigo Higashino’s complicated best-seller. Only in the denouement does his sleuth-like attentiveness to detail and controlled revelation of secrets yield a devastating payoff.

The 149-minute duration and slow-burning mood will challenge Asia-phile viewers used to faster-paced and less cerebral genre conventions. But the quality production and chance to see idol Maki Horikita in a more mature role could boost domestic box office and influence Asian distribution.

In 1980, a pawnshop owner named Yosuke Kirihara is found stabbed to death inside a locked warehouse. The prime suspect is his adulterous wife, but she has 10-year-old son Ryoji as her alibi. The cop-in-charge, Sasagaki (Eiichiro Funakoshi), shift their investigation to Kirihara’s mistress Fumiyo Nishimura, especially after her young daughter Yukiho offers implicating evidence. Despite Sasagaki’s misgivings, the case is hastily closed due to Nishimura’s untimely death. 

The second act traverses the next 10 years of Yukiho (Horikita)’s and Ryoji (Kengo Kora)’s lives, which go into opposite directions. While the former charms her way into high society, the latter descends into delinquency and neurosis. The case becomes Sasagaki’s hobbyhorse even after he retires. 

Fukagawa maintains equal interest in all three protagonists even though they never meet until the shattering coda. They form an obsessed triptych of one who wants to escape the past, one stuck in the past and one trying to make sense of it. Despite the trail of human wreckage left in their wake, one feels sympathy for them all. Sasagaki’s hidden motive for cracking the case, not the whodunit, is more of a surprise, and a humane, moving one at that. 

Fukagawa depicts the Osaka slums with unsentimental realism, making the Lynchian depravity of the dirt-poor and hardened community disturbing. The minimalist music (spare cello and jazzy double-bass strings) and the wet, wintry feel of the blue or black color scheme (even Yukiho’s new manor house looks like a high class funeral parlor) mirror the characters’ terrible repression and the cold, loveless world they inhabit.

With a straight-arrow chronological development until the final reel, when two extended emotive flashbacks reveal all like a film-within-a-film, this is far more accessible than Park Shin-woo’s Korean film adaptation of the same title that’s luridly stylized, hopelessly romantic and crisscrossed with befuddling flashbacks. 

Horikita has just the right poise as teenage Yukiho but she’s out of her depth as a mature married woman. Kora conveys vulnerability and mystery.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival, Panorama
Sales: GAGA Corporation
Production companies: Wowow Films
Cast: Maki Horikita, Kengo Kora, Eiichiro Funakoshi, Nobuo Kyo, Yurie Midori
Director-screenwriter: Yoshihiro Fukagawa
Screenwriter: Akari Yamamoto
Based on the novel by Keigo Higashino
Chief executive producers: Nobuya Waziki, TomYoda, Masahiko Mizuguchi, Koichi Inaba, Yoshitaka Hori, Kazuhiko Torishima, Tomoko Machida
Executive producers: Hiro Ishigaki, Satomi Odake, Atsushi Sugai, Hiroyuki Akume
Producers: Satoka Kojima, Hiromi Honoki, Ryuta Inoue, Kazunari Hashiguchi
Director of photography: Koichi Ishii
Production designer: Namiko Iwaki
Music: Mamiko Hirai
Editor: Naoya Bando
No rating, 149 minutes

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