Shield of Straw

Reviewed by: sukting

September 15, 2013

Rating: two-point-five

How long

It is a 2013 thriller movie adapted from "Wara no Tate" by Kazuhiro Kiuchi. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. I won the preview tickets and watched it one day before its official release. My thoughts of certain parts are in brackets. How does it fare?

Story/Introduction on characters
Ninagawa(Tsutomu Yamazaki) is a powerful man in Japanese politics and with top economic connections. His six year old granddaughter is murdered in the woods. The suspect is pedophile Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara). Kunihide Kiyomaru has a prior conviction for assaulting and killing a girl 8 years ago. He is released from jail lately but the police can never apprehend him in the prior killing.

Kazuki Mekari (Takao Osawa) and Atsuko Shiraiwa(Nanako Matsushima) are practicing shooting. Their colleagues marvel at their accuracy. Three months after the murder of his granddaughter, Ninagawa places a whole page ad in the 3 big Japanese newspapers. The ad states "Please kill this man Kunihide Kiyomaru and I will pay you 1,000,000,000 yen as a reward."

Section Chief Ooki (Hirotaro Honda) is puzzled how this ad can be published and the 60 staff involved in the printing resigns the next day. By right, this is prohibited. (So am I – doesn't the head do the checking before publication? Not one – but three of them! ) He even sets up a website to hunt down Kunihide. Money does not matter to him now since she is dead as he is already so old. Ooki shows Mekari thorugh the information from the smartphone that his son just buys for him.

Even though they are brought into questioning, they refuse to cooperate with the police. Even attempted/unsuccessful tries can get one-tenth of the reward. Ooki predicts the case will blow up. Meanwhile, Kunihide sees the ad and begins to fear for his life. He now stays with an ex-convict he befriends in jail. Sure enough, his friend tries to kill him for the reward.

Kunihide then turns himself in at the Fukuoka Police Station. Mekari returns home to pay respects to his dead wife before getting a call from Ooki. Four detectives from the security section (SP) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department are to travel to Fukuoka to escort Kunihide back to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. He accepts the task as part of his job. (How can there be only 5 people in total to escort a dangerous criminal through such a risky journey?)

The distance between Fukuoka and Tokyo is approximately 1,200 km. They have to bring him in alive within 48 hours to put him on trial. Atsuko feels mad on having to protect the scumbag but Mekari tells her to be a professional. She tells the other two cops, Masataka Kanbashi (Kento Nagayama) and Takeshi Okumura (Goro Kishitani) the same thing before they leave for Fukuoka. Takeshi finds it a pity that she doesn't get a promotion even though she is a sharp shooter as she is a single mother.

Before Kunihide is brought before the four officers, he is attacked by one policeman in jail. Thus, they have to see him in the hospital. Kenji Sekiya(Masato Ibu) is the chief of Fukuoka Police Station and he will be accompanying them to Tokyo to prevent further leakage of the news. Kunihide gets hysterical to keep using a water hose to wash his hands – he will not allow anyone to touch him.

Mekari notices something amiss with the nurse when the doctor wants her to give Kunihide a jab to calm him down. It turns out that it is poison instead. They can't take the flight back as an airport staff damages the plane. They have to rely on land transport. So they get Kunihide into a bus among police protection by their cars and other buses. (Huh – why is he handcuffed from the front and not the back – what is the big chain tying to him for? He can still escape with it!)

Kunihide notices that Mekari wears a ring and asks if he is married. Kenji replies that she is dead due to a reckless car driver. Although the person is in jail, he can't put down his hatred as his wife reminds him of a cop's responsibility. As for Atsuko, she has a nine year old son. Kanbashi has seen the dead body and dislikes Kunihide as he can't believe he can do such a thing to a child.

Atsuko shakes her head at this decision as there might be black sheep among them. True indeed, their position is exposed in the website. Soon, a man drives an oil tanker to charge at them. He gets killed in the end. Kanbashi is nearly killed in the explosion after shooting the driver. He shakes his head – the fellow does not even know which bus Kunihide is in to charge blindly. Just then, two policemen get near the bus and announce that the superintendent wants to meet them.

Atsuko senses something amiss and she kills the two men with Mekari's help. Mekari takes some time to get his hearing back and his bulletproof vest protects him. Takeshi injures his wrist in the process. Mekari decides to take the bullet train back to Tokyo. By now, the 5 people have already claimed the reward even though they do not mind going to jail to pay for their crime. Takeshi finds the clerical deputy superintendent standing beside the commissioner suspicious.

Kanbashi gets tired of this and nearly wants to kill Kunihide to end their misery. He doesn't trust his teammates and demands to search Mekari. But he can't find a thing to prove that he is bribed. Kenji says that he himself will not kill Kunihide even though his daughter is of the same age of the dead girl. They decide to seal up the cabin so that no one else can enter. Only the captain knows but Atsuko still finds their cabin exposed on the website. The Japanese population plotting to kill Kunihide gets bigger now.

Kanbashi gets shot to dead in the end and all are sad, pondering over his last words if it is worth protecting this jerk. He has given up his chance to take care of his mother due to him. (His demise is actually his own fault as he doesn't wear his bullet vest.) They have to drop out at another station for the train station to clear the mess but the cops know that trouble will come again since 120 policemen are there. (why the bullet train is introduced in the movie – it is an advertisement for it.)

Atsuko suddenly points her gun at Kunihide – why doesn't she share the reward with Takeshi by killing him? Takeshi tells her not to and she keeps her gun, telling him that he loses his chance. Just when Mekari and Kenji are about to step out of the cabin, a man charges at them with a knife and holds a girl as a hostage. Kenji has thought that he is successful in his negotiation when the man turns berserk. He has no choice but to kill him and to be taken away by the other cops.

Mekari then decides that the whole bullet train will have to travel to Tokyo without stopping now. However, someone throws a luggage to hinder the train from moving so they have to walk all the way. Suddenly, they see a car and the driver offers to help. Takeshi sees Atsuko using the handphone to find her suspicious as she is not reading the website but sending a sms.

Later, they discover that the driver is the father of the dead girl killed 8 years ago. They have no choice but to subdue the driver to drive his car away. Takeshi demands to check Atsuko's handphone. Mekari reads the message – she congratulates her son for scoring 80 marks and tells him to heat the curry rice she has prepared for him once he is home.

The two cops then point their guns at Takeshi. They find nothing on him but Mekari sees him holding his wrist. He grabs his arm and finds a microchip. No wonder their whereabouts is exposed. Takeshi admits that he is bribed before the team is set up. Still, he is doing his duty to protect this criminal from others. He then relates that there are too many criminals for them to catch – why not just get Kunihide's reward?

Mekari sees this as Takeshi's excuse and locks him aside for the other policemen to get him. He and Atsuko come to another province. Kunihide tells the two that in case they get the reward, they can give some money to his mother.

Kunihide distracts Atsuko to try to get away. He stops at a house, seeing a girl sleeping and wants to go in. (He can still think of doing this at this time?) Mekari stops him and a cab driver offers to help him. Sure enough, the police stops every private car instead of taxis. (How can supervision by this lax?!)

At this time, Kunihide learns from the radio news that his mother has committed suicide and her last words are to get him to surrender. They stop the car for a while to let him cry. Mekari informs Ooki that they are still with Kunihide and learns that Takeshi lies to the cops that both of them are held hostage by Kunihide. He is right in a way. The clerical deputy commissioner is mad with Ooki that he doesn't ask them on their whereabouts and reminds him of the money that he has taken from Ninagawa.

Ooki feels very guilty to cause so many deaths – what else does Ninagawa need since he had met his request to send out the most sentimental cops for the mission? He is tired of this and his cancer stricken son can't live long anyway. Mekari gets a call from Ninagawa – he offers to kill the culprit in prison who kills his wife. Mekari rejects outright, wanting him to give up the reward chase instead.

Atsuko forgets that Kunihide is behind her now. He uses a broken chain to bash her head before seizing her gun to kill her. She mumbles that she can't return to her son now before she dies. (I shake my head – how can she be an alert cop as she lets down her guard twice?) Mekari beats him up – why does he kill someone who tries so hard to protect him? He replies that he hates the smell of an auntie.

Mekari points his gun at Kunihide's mouth. Kunihide reminds him of his wife's last words but he laughs bitterly. He has lied about that – she hasn't waken up since her coma. Kunihide asks him if he has a child – yes – his daughter is inside his wife. He has replayed many scenes in his mind on killing him – but no – he has to leave it to justice to handle. But for him, he can just kill him.

Later, Mekari returns to Ooki in the cab - with Kunihide stepping out alive. He passes the man to his colleagues. They are totally baffled that he follows the rules. Mekari wants to talk him out of giving the reward. Ninagawa walks out of his car with a walking stick. He is about to kill Kunihide with a sword hidden in it. Mekari stops him on time and Kunihide seizes it.

Mekari shields Ninagawa and he gets pierced through the body instead. Ninagawa is arrested and the reward is cancelled. Kunihide is sentenced to death – he regrets…not killing more than he could have. Mekari recovers and looks after Atsuko's son. Like the way he waits for his mother, he waits for him to be with him after work to stroll on the streets.

Should the police shield or shoot the criminal whom they detest? That is why the title of the movie is shield of straw – it can be so thin if the police do not want to protect the criminal at all. This is one dilemma that police often face. They have to perform their duty and leave to justice. They have to remain impartial but what if a big reward awaits them? Will they forget their duty?
This movie provides insight into it on how there is mistrust among the cops when suspicion arises but not enough – it has a thrilling start but a soapy, slow ending. The cat and mouse game ends too fast even though the civilians join in the catch. No wonder it doesn't get to win the prize. It is simply not that outstanding enough to win it.

Performance wise, all are good. I must praise the actors for doing a good job. Takao does well as Mekari who struggles hard to keep a balance. Nanako is cool at first but she can be too expressionless at certain times. It is a pity that her role ends up dead – not sure if this is true to the novel as I have not read it.

Tatsuya Fujiwara as Kunihide Kiyomaru is brilliant – see how he tries to hide when others are after him. When the cops try so hard to save his life, he can cover the blinds and be oblivious to what is going on. He doesn't repent but shows a rare soft side towards his mother. I will like to see Tatsuya in more different roles instead of evil roles – as what he said in Singapore when he came to promote another movie last year.

As listed above, I find certain parts unbelievable. However, there are certain changes to the novel such as the use of the smartphone is appropriate. Technology gets around easily and no one can hide when the news spread like fire first. That is why all the cops have to use their wits to pit against the attackers and time.

Sukting's ratings :
On acting : *** (Scale of 5)

On story : **1/2 (Scale of 5)

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