Takashi Miike made his first big international splash in Rotterdam, with "Audition" in 2000, and then began a run of productivity that few filmmakers, even famously prolific ones, can match. This is the man who made "Visitor Q," "Ichi the Killer" and "The Happiness of the Katakuris" in the same year. Even crazier, that was less than half of his output in 2001, a year in which he made seven feature films. He made fifteen movies in all between 2001 and 2003, including "Gozu," which savvy critics rightly acknowledge is his best film. Perhaps Miike has mellowed in recent years. He’s only been making two or three films anually for the past half decade.
Maybe he should work less. His latest film, “Ace Attorney," which made its world premiere here in Rotterdam, bringing him back to the site of his earliest international acclaim, is a combination bizarre, oddly satisfying video game adaptation and otherworldly legal satire. It’s consistently stylish, frequently corny and always watchable, even as its inspired passages flame out long before its 130 minute plus running time comes to a close; like much of Miike’s big budget work, it is significantly overlong, with flights of fancy that wear thin rather quickly. It provides the most stirring example yet of a filmmaker in full bloom who is perhaps over indulged by his opportunities to make films, whose craft and wit are unsurpassed but whose reputation allows him to work without the limitations that might make his movies more vital and economically structured.
Not to say that "Ace Attorney," made in close collaboration with game producer Capcom, is without ambition; it tells a tremendously complicated story and does so with flair and kineticism.
In a Japan of the future, within which the film and games are set, criminal law has become the equivalent of a two player platform fighting game. Crime has risen to such extremes that all court cases only last three days (a process referred to as “turnabout law”), in which the defense and prosecution duel it out in a manner that amps up revelations and tones down nuance and, well, anything boring or arcane about the legal process.
Miike’s film centers on Phoenix Wright, who becomes embroiled in the first high-profile case of his career when his boss is found murdered and a seemingly innocent female bystander is booked with the charge. The prosecutor, an unnaturally gray haired, long time rival of Wright’s whose father is the longest-standing and most well-regarded prosecutor in Japan, challenges him in a series of trials that slowly reveal the endemic corruption of the Japanese legal system.
The film provides more than its fair share of unintentional laughs because of its outlandishness (the confetti that drops from the rafters after a trial, as if the Super Bowl had been completed, is a nice touch) and its occasional earnestness isn’t all for naught. Yet even as it positions itself as Miike’s most accessible and mainstream film yet, it still tells a relatively trite tale in a manner that intentionally won’t challenge or provoke its video game obsessed devotees, but just embolden their persistent aesthetic of overstimulation. I think we’ll be seeing Miike direct episodes of G4’s Tekken TV show any day now. [C+]