Details: 135mins, Japan,
Synopsis: A novice defence lawyer Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Naramiya) works in a futuristic courtroom where trials are expedited to combat rising crime. Wright’s opponent is childhood pal and cunning prosecutor, Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saitô). Although the trial is fast paced, the case is ancient and complicated. The two sides compete in tournament-like bouts to convince the jury of their arguments. Based on the successful video game series.
Takashi Miike does what he can with lightweight video game adaptation.
That this disposable distraction is even watchable is a tribute to Miike’s mastery
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It’s not a film festival until at least one Takashi Miike movie is playing. At 52, he’s not as prolific as he used to be but he’s still managed to make three films so far this year: The Legend of Love & Sincerity, the yet to be completed Lesson of the Evil and the Melbourne International Film Festival offering, Ace Attorney. Most Japanese films are based on an alternative media source, and this instance is a video game.
With the help of scriptwriters Sakurai Takeharu and Oguchi Sachiko, the game has been fashioned into a story in which a lowly, petty claims lawyer, Phoenix Wright (Narimiya Hiroki), is catapulted into the legal big time of a major murder case when a high-flying colleague is killed. The accused is spiritualist Mayoi (Kiritani Mirei), and Phoenix must defend her from the wiles of the hot shot prosecutor Miles (Saito Takumi), who also happens to be Phoenix’s childhood friend.
As Ace Attorney progresses, it betrays its video game roots as, having won one trial, Phoenix then is thrust into another related but more complicated case with an even stronger legal opponent. Almost from the outset, Miike plays the whole thing for laughs. MIFF’s audience eased right into the film’s light-hearted satire of the Japanese fear of the disorganised, the embarrassing and the penchant for inserting cuteness into the most inappropriate (by Western mores) of situations.
Miike’s cast have obvious fun mugging (Emoto Akira hiding behind a thick grey beard is a riot as the monosyllabic, easily swayed judge) and getting much mileage out of very thin material. That this disposable distraction is even watchable is a tribute to Miike’s mastery. No matter how many films he makes in a year, Miike’s direction – even if it is rough around the edges – always contains mesmerising moments. A surreal opening combining the diverse elements of post-nuclear holocaust evoking Hiroshima and Fukushima, as well as gunplay and mysticism, garners more serious attention than many films can sustain for their duration. Conversely, one of the biggest laughs of this movie comes from an elaborate visual gag that takes true artistry to set up. Miike also uses the computer game format to enliven the silly courtroom with evidence presented on supposedly holographic screens and then moving them around the courtroom to make the legal scenes visually dynamic.
And if that’s all you want, Miike can supply it – effortlessly and endlessly. But – not that he’d care – there’s also the sense that Miike is frittering away his talent. He makes silly films in the way that Picasso used to doodle on restaurant serviettes rather than condescend to pay a bill. Ace Attorney exhibits just enough of his prestigious talent to string you along far enough to check out the next film in which he may or may not truly apply himself. Miike is happy as long as he’s shooting film (though this was shoddy low quality digital – or was that MIFF’s poor projection?). It’s good he’s having fun, but saddening that he has set his standards so low.
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