Suspect X

Reviewed by: Funn Lim

September 07, 2009

Rating: four-point-five

"Tsutsumi portrayed Ishigami in such a valiant way, his motives unquestionable that when his method was exposed, you will pity him and slam Yukawa instead for being a busybody"

The following review was previously posted at and is reproduced here in its entirety

Original title
YĆ“gisha X no kenshin which I read is translated as The Devotion of Suspect X which is a dead giveaway even before the movie starts so the title Suspect X is quite mysterious in my opinion. Japanese does come out with the most interesting but sometimes meaningless English titles. Like Death Note. In itself meaningless and yet interesting.


Truth be told I only know one actor and that is Fukuyama Masaharu from Under One Roof series. I was very excited to know ONE actor in the movie because normally TV actors and movie actors in Japan don't quite appear interchange their medium of appearance. And my god, he looks tall (because the girl is short), as thin as I remember him to be, voice as deeply melodic as years before and his hair, fabulously messy. But he does look old in here, and he is playing a rather youthful looking 38. Brought back good memories of him since if I remember correctly I have only seen him in at most 2 or 3 series. Haven't watched Japanese series for quite some time.

A rather simple story with twists after twists in the end. It is essentially a crime drama. From the outset we know a beautiful divorcee, Yasuko and her teenaged daughter, Misato were visited by the divorcees's despicable ex husband, Shinji (not the girl's father) and when he spied on the girl changing her clothes, the mother chased him out only to have the daughter use a big snow globe to hit his head. Not dead, he then attacked the girl, beating her senselessly and the mother in an attempt to save herself and her daughter, pushed him onto the floor and used an electrical cord, wrapped around his neck and pulled hard whilst the daughter held down his struggling hands. Some time later he stopped moving. Yasuko has an elusive and lonely neighbour by the name of Tesuya Ishigami (his surname, Ishigami is apparently very rare in Japan) who is a high school maths teacher who keeps to himself. However he heard the struggling, knocked on her door and by the end of some quiet questioning, he was telling her what to do to avoid arrest. And so the crime drama begins.

The next scene the police, headed by a young man and his younger lady assistant whose name I did not catch (and the only female detective in the department) were sent to investigate a naked male body dumped at a nearby baseball field. It was a cold winter day and the body could not be identified, as his face was smashed in and his fingers burned. However not much later the police quite easily found his identity that is Shinji and the investigation quickly narrowed on his ex wife, Yasuko. However Yasuko seems to have iron clad alibis, from movie ticket stubs to karaoke sessions to dinners, all on a weekday on the 2nd December. The police did not believe her at all but her alibis were eventually checked out and so they were stumped. What they didn't know was Yasuko was being coached by Ishigami who calls her from a payphone to avoid detection. She doesn't quite realised why Ishigami was helping her but Ishigami seems happy to assist.

Meanwhile the police confused how the killer as in Yasuko can be at 2 places at one time met with their top scientist/physicist/crime solver from the scientific point of view, the smart handsome youthful Prof Yukawa at the university. Prof Yukawa was not interested in the case until he heard the name Ishigawa whom he himself said "I do not use the word genius lightly, but to me Ishigawa was a genius but his only interest is in maths". He met and was friendly with Ishigawa when they were in college 17 years before and so he made a visit to Ishigawa, rekindled old friendship and was surprised to find Ishigawa not achieving the success he ought to have. Ishigawa explained he was forced to leave his post at the university to take care of an ailing mother. His teaching job at the high school was meaningless of course, he was only interested in maths and the students did now show him the respect that Yukawa afforded him. When the police realised Ishigami was smarter than they thought, the attention was focussed on him being the killer to aid his lover Yasuko but Yukawa dismissed that theory as he believed "Ishigami is not capable of murder". As the investigation hit a wall, the police began to shift their attention to another theory as Shinji was also owing a lot of money and gang members may be involved. But the police somehow was convinced Yasuko was the killer and even Yukawa believed Ishigami may not have killed Shinji but he may have helped disguised the scene as some brutal murder and coached Yasuko. Yasuko herself felt grateful for Ishigami's help but was troubled to find him becoming more possessive of her, to the point that a former customer of hers (she was a bar hostess) who began to woo her received threatening letters and she knew it was by Ishigami. She refused to take Ishigami's calls eventhough her daughter liked him and in the end the call she received he said to her "This will be our last conversation" instructing her to read one letter and keep the other and the next thing he surrendered himself to the police, saying he killed Shinji. The police solved the case but Yukawa whose brilliant mind was troubled by the many facts later had a hypothesis that he explained to Ishigami which proved to be right. His hypothesis explained why Yasuko who killed Shinji had iron clad alibis and could be a 2 places at one time and how deep was Ishigami's role in the cover up. However what he could not understand was what drove Ishigami to this ultimate act of sacrifice to which this movie will reveal towards the end.

And as Ishigami told Yukawa earlier "Exposing the truth will only hurt everybody" and Yukawa finally knew what Ishigami meant.

Shall I repeat how excited I was to see Fukuyama Masaharu? A long name, one of which I just knew without having to think "Who is he ah? What's the name again ah?". Anyway he is one stylish physicist in here and this movie's theme is laid out earlier on when a suspecting Yukawa asked a rather expressionless Ishigami "Which is more difficult? Creating an unsolvable crime or solving one?" The promise of 2 great minds and friends being pitted against one another is unfortunately never fully realised. Yukawa was later reduced to deducing the facts, the police no more than just running back and forth on theories whilst Ishigami's role is more fleshed out. In fact I have the impression this is a story on Ishigami.

The question most will definitely ask is why on earth Ishigami would need to go to such lengths to help Yasuko? After all Shinji was such a bastard, he came to the house unannounced, took money, spied on Misato who was changing, proceeded to beat the crap out of a teenage child and the whole so called murder is an excellent example of self defence. That man could easily kill both of them and his rage was unquestionable. In America or anywhere else, Yasuko and Misato would be free. However we are talking about Japan here with a very different legal jurisprudence and perhaps there may not just be criminal responsibility no matter what, but rather social stigma of an ex wife killing a husband. Moreover Yasuko wanted to protect Misato whose grip was clearly seen on Shinji's hands. It would be a drawn out process, a very long trial and in the end all reputation lost. So I would not dispute the need and certainly the reason why Ishigami did it was also obvious, a concept Yukawa couldn't understand, that is love. To Yukawa for what Ishigami did, Yukawa felt great distressed because "You have such a brilliant mind you wasted it all on this!", this being what he did ultimately which I shall not reveal here. I thought the whole bit about maths versus physics is quite interesting. But the more interesting part was how Ishigami manipulated the facts to help Yasuko escape. His brilliant mind almost helped Yasuko escape with a perfect murder but he didn't cound on the fact that Yasuko would be wrecked by guilt. Not guilt for her dead ex husband, he deserved his end but what Ishigami did for her, she asked him "Why? Why? Why?" and when she confessed "I will join you in prison, to accept this punishment with you", it was Ishigami's turn to cry and ask "Why? Why? Why?". It was effort poured down the drain, all wasted because one man couldn't let things be (Yukawa), one man didn't count on the fact Yasuko may have either feelings for him or such feelings of guilt for he had done for her (Ishigami) and one ruled by her gratitude and conscience (Yasuko).

The last act of this movie was very moving, what drives Ishigami (more than love), what drives Yukawa (more than a need for the truth) and what drives Yasuko (more than just guilt). The ending will leave you wondering, pondering and of course a little sad at the injustice of it all. I of course cursed Yukawa why he didn't just let it go. Even the policewoman seems interested in letting it go.

The final scene before the end credits was a lonely desolute Yukawa sitting on a bench with the policewoman next to him where he sadly said "This was the bench where I first met Ishigawa 17 years ago" and as he thought things over, he said to her "His biggest failure was to fall in love. If he hadn't, he wouldn't have ended up where he is" and he was convinced he was right but the policewoman gently said "Falling in love with Yasuko saved him" and Yukawa looked at her, confused. He of course could not understand the magnitude of love, he believed Ishigami threw his life away for love but the truth was Ishigami was ready to kill himself as he had been a failure when he heard a knock on his door and it was Yasuko and Misato greeting him as their new neighbour. Over the time, they often greeted him warmly and he was saved by his secret love for Yasuko and helping her was the one true meaning of his continued existence, he felt his life in the end had a purpose, and he was appreciated for it. When Yukawa expressed his disappointment and anger that Ishigami used his brilliance to help a woman escape a crime, saying "what a waste of a brilliant mind", Ishigami sadly said "You're the only one who would think that of me" which meant Yukawa was the only one who appreciated his brilliance, that it was such a waste.

Exactly how Ishigami helped Yukawa create the iron clad alibis is for you to figure out which the movie will answer in the end. It will answer what, where, why, when and how.

However this movie has its problems. Why the need for Ishigami to do what he ultimately did when covering the murder itself would be enough? Maybe dramatic license? And why would so many police work on one case? Or rather was it some bi weekly meeting between all departments to discuss all cases? I mean the ratio of 50 cops were one murder victim is ridiculous. And why would the police immediately focus on Yasuko? They never discussed her motive, never even questioned it when that man was owing debts to so many people, some gang members, wouldn't they be better suspects? Why were they so convinced Yasuko was the killer? This to me is one loophole in the plot I just had to endure and not question. The moment you let that possess you, believe me you will not enjoy the movie.

And I enjoyed the movie tremendously. I thought the whole cover up, although gory in the end and a bit too dramatic was overall brilliant and very clever, especially the whole alibi thing. I was thinking how come the alibis could be so convincing (and none of them shown, just discussed by the detectives and Yukawa) that the police could not disprove them? And why is Yukawa so youthful and Ishigami, at 38 years old looking like 50? Did Yasuko feel for Ishigami? Why Ishigami was stalking her and her potential new boyfriend, a jovial richer man who was her ex customer? And why everyone calls her beautiful? Well I can reveal the answer to the last question here; she is beautiful actually.

There were of course times of utter frustration for the viewers. Like the repeated scenes of explaining Ishigami helped Yasuko, that we already know for like so many times. Then there was the repeated explantion on what Yasuko did and of course those infuriating scenes where telephone calls are slow to be received or that scene where Ishigami said he got 2 letters and there I was saying "COME ON! HURRY UP! GET THE LETTERS AND READ!!" but it will take a further 15 minutes or so before that is done. Also times of silence. Total silence. Can be irritating.

But what is interesting is one aspect I thought I will never see in a Japanese movie. Homeless people living under the bridge. Wow, Japan got homeless people meh? Well yes of course, we just never see. And another aspect; students behaving rudely in front of a teacher. Never seen that before.

And the other aspect why I enjoyed this movie tremendously is of course the performances.

First of all Fukuyama Masaharu did not disappoint. If you think he was wooden, well that's his style. He doesn't show much emotion but when needed you will see the emotion. He is always very subtle in his acting from what I remember (but not on good authority since I have seen so few) and he can display anger, coolness and disappointment all in one go. And when I say cool, oh my my my, I remember why I liked him so when I was much much younger. He is so cool! Of course I am very sure he will look terrible without his clothes on (so thin!) but my god, he looks good in a lab coat and his hair styled in the messy style I know the hairstylist spend like just hours on it! His far shots showed him rather youthful but zoom in, well time has been kind on him but still time has passed substantially. His voice is almost mesmerizing, such a deep barritone that many Japanese actors are well known far (and most Korean actors in a more whiny way), So masculine and when he explained about science, I was convinced eventhough I had no idea what he was talking about. His type of acting needs some getting used to because Japanese actors do not emote emotionally so to speak but they do shout and scream. I don't know, maybe I am just excited at seeing him but I thought he was rather convincing as a scientist-crime solver. I hope there will be a sequel with his character in it. I wouldn't mind watching a series with him as Yukawa solving crime. And Yukawa can be such an egoistical know it all character but the concern, loyalty, disappointment, perhaps regret and in the end confusion he displayed towards his friend and what he did showed him as a human being. Fukuyama Masaharu's (a name I can keep on repeating without being bored with it) performance certainly highlighted all that with his face registering only one look throughout; not bad acting, just very controlled. Anyway I still feel Yukawa is such a busybody!

Then there were the women.

I am not sure of the name of the policewoman so I can't identify the actress' name but this is probably the first time ever I have ever seen or heard a Japanese actress speak louder than a breathy whisper. Japanese actresses tend to whisper in that sort of fake docile polite low tone way and when they play scared, panic or angry, it is always that fake docile polite low tone way except with a lot more heavy breathing which can be annoying after 1 minute. I can never stand their performances, even the actress' breathy way of talking in the Oscar winning excellent movie, Departures. But this one who plays the detective, she speaks in normal tone, no breathy, no whispering, no fake docile way. She sounded like a detective, albeit a young inexperienced one that is often asked to make coffee and bring stuff like a secretary (realistic isn't it?) but in one scene where she was raiding a night club, she shouted for order and was very convincing as a cop. Some comments in said she was terrible but I beg to differ. If you know how Japanese actresses act, you will be very surprised at her performance. It has force and it has power, without all those docile nonsense. At least for once I don't see one actress wearing that kitchen apron. Truth is she had very little role. I mean her role had little to do but she was in almost every scene, and her character obviously in love with Yukawa who knew but didn't quite care I suppose.

Yasuko Matsuyuki plays Yasuko (must be a popular Japanese name) who of course wears the apron most of the time. But her performance doesn't begin and end with whispering her lines. There were distress, there were anger, there were confusion, fear, questions but her final scene, though she threw her chances at happiness away is totally believable. The scene where she killed her ex husband is also believable. I am just glad there are no heavy breathings and shrieky voices. Not even the girl who plays her daughter and that can mean only good news for audiences like myself.

But the highlight has to be Shin'ichi Tsutsumi who plays the rather valiant but quite creepy in a way Ishigami. I read that he is mostly a stage actor, and it shows. Yes, stage actors can be overacting actors, but he has enough experience to keep that under control, moreover Japanese actors are rather subdued in their acting, stage actors or otherwise. In here he is definitely given more to play with than Fukuyama Masaharu. He didn't have to be cool, in fact he walks with a slight stoop, like without much purpose, without much respect. But interestingly again, his oldish Ishigami can outclimb Yukawa during a mountain climbing expedition. And may I add I was expecting you know a hill but they actually climbed a snow covered snow storm ridden majorly high mountain! Ishigami was actually healthier than Yukawa in that sense but why he looked so old was because life as in opportunities passed him by and he wasn't happy. Tsutsumi portrayed Ishigami in such a valiant way, his motives unquestionable that when his method was exposed, you will pity him and slam Yukawa instead for being a busybody. After all he was going to jail so what difference does it make? I like his controlled but natural performance. He can be so quiet and still and yet a formidable force. He was believable as a very calculating and brilliant man stuck in a dead end job whose potential was never realised. When Yukawa lamented that his brilliance was thrown away, I kinda buy into that but I also understand why he did what he did and Tsutsumi's performance is the opposite of Fukuyama's performance; that is he is not handsome, not cool and not entirely popular or well liked. And yet he understood what is love even if he did it in a very gory manner to display his love for Yasuko. By the way this actor looks like Zheng Geping from Singapore and frankly also an excellent actor. I would say Tsutsumi stole the show, especially that last scene as he cried "Why? Why? Why?" as he was dragged away by the police, not banking on the fact that perhaps Yasuko may feel love for him? or maybe an obligation towards him? Gratitude? I never knew if Yasuko really loved him.

The other performances are standard performances by characters that are either nameless, faceless or pointless. Plenty of police but frankly they have no character development.

A must see for fans of interesting and thought provoking crime drama that focusses on the human aspect rather than the crime aspect. Whether it is intelligent or not is up to your interpretation. I thought it was pretty clever at times. But the performances by the 2 lead actors and 2 lead actresses are the factors that carried this movie and made it something better than the usual. Is it the best crime drama ever? Of course not, but you must admit, it is again pretty clever. Is this the best movie ever from Japan? Not really. The most original? Maybe Death Note is but not this. The most stylish? Not really. Is it the most entertaining? Nope. But is it one of the cleverest, stylish, entertaining and quite original movie I have seen thus far. Moreover it has a killer soundtrack, like when a certain character walk with a swagger cue the swagger music, like when a character explaining about scientific theories cue the scientific music, you know what I mean, even if at times over the top, making my heart beat faster because of the majorly exciting mysterious soundtrack when the characters were just packing their climbing gears. I actually thought in that packing the climbing gears scene itself, I thought maybe a dead body will pop up in that scene. Overall a must see movie for anyone who appreciates a good movie and I believe everybody does.

The Ending Revealed
So as not to spoil your viewing pleasure, if you really want to know the whole case points, summarised of course, check out the original review at Scroll to the bottom of that review, highlight the spaces between **** and *** for more on the major spoilers.

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