A single glance at the poster art was all I needed to decide whether I wanted to see Eiichiro Hasumi's Gekijoban Mozu. The moment I recognized Takeshi Kitano's face, I knew this film would be a worthwhile gamble. When I sat down to watch the film I was completely clueless about what exactly I was getting myself into, I didn't even know who directed the film. I have to admit that made it a little challenging at times, but at the same time I'm quite confident it made me like the film even better.
The thing with Gekijoban Mozu is that it follows a 2-part TV series, which in turn is based on a series of novels written by Go Osaka. That's a lot of back story missing for people not familiar with the franchise. On top of that, the film makes no effort whatsoever to properly introduce the characters or recap anything that happened before. There are some flashbacks, but they probably make things even more confusing. The film simply begins where the series left off and sets out to tie a few remaining knots, coherence be damned.
The film received quite a lot of flack for that from non-familiars, but personally I didn't mind at all. Sure enough you're missing out on some details and several characters appear and reappear almost randomly, but considering the cast of larger than life characters and the over-the-top, convoluted plot I can only wonder what people think they're missing. Gekijoban Mozu isn't a delicately scripted affair, nor does it have subtle and/or layered characterization. Whatever gaps there are, they're easily plugged by anyone remotely familiar with the genre tropes.
The film follows Naotake, a disillusioned cop who just happens to be in the right spot when a group of black suits tries to kidnap Elena, a young but mentally disabled girl. Naotake intervenes, unaware of the fact that the kidnappers are from the very organization that killed his wife and daughter. Together with Ryota, an ex-cop turned private eye, he vows to protect the girl, but when the people behind Elena's failed kidnapping get to Ryoto's daughter, they have no choice but to submit to the wishes of the criminals.
One of the main reasons I tend to dislike films based on TV series is their typical lack of cinematic muscle, but that clearly wasn't a problem here. From start to finish, Gekijoban Mozu looks exceptionally slick. The most eye-catching aspect of the film is definitely the way color and light turn every frame into a flickering yet atmospheric living painting. Also notable is the abundance of horizontal camera work, moving the frame from one perfect shot to the next. There's always this slight sense of disappointment once the camera starts moving, but that quickly fades when you notice it slowly morphing into the next awesome shot. Add to that some stunning locations and you have a film with plenty of visual bravura.
The soundtrack is a little less demanding. It's actually quite decent for this type of film, rising moderately above the mostly generic background music that's expected of the genre, but memorable it is not. It adds the right amount of tension and adrenaline to each scene and it fulfils its duty effortlessly, but it never steers or dictates the atmosphere of the film. All in all it's a decent enough soundtrack, but I tend to expect just a little more.
As for the cast, it seems that all the important actors from the TV series returned to their parts. Leading the pack is Hidetoshi Nishijima in one of his coolest roles to date, other notable performances come from Teruyuki Kagawa and Yusuke Iseya. And then there's Takeshi Kitano of course, who revels in his part of Daruma, the film's ultimate bad guy. His role is relatively small, even so his presence looms over the film and when he finally does appear, he lives up to the promise.
Critic Edmund Lee wrote that Gekijoban Mozu feels like a 2-hour highlight reel of a 6-hour film. I agree, but where Lee used it as a knock against the film, I see it as something that speaks in favor of Gekijoban Mozu . I don't think the "extra four hours" would've added anything substantial to the film and the last thing I'm looking for is a bunch of generic plot filler and pointless exposition so each and everyone is on board with what is happening. Instead we get a wide range of crazy characters, some very cool action scenes and a 2-hour rollercoaster with exceptional entertainment value.
If you don't like the bewilderment of not being able to follow every small detail and you prefer your film plots nailed shut, Gekijoban Mozu clearly isn't the film for you (unless you watch the series first, but I'm not even sure that clears up everything). But if you like 120 minutes of stylish showdowns, explosive action scenes and over-the-top characters, Eiichiro Hasumi delivers one of the best films in ages. It's a terrific ride and one of the best live-action TV series adaptations I've seen.