JFF 2013 Review - Shield of Straw
With the dramatic sensibilities of a great zombie film, Shield of Straw replaces shambling corpses with every day people who are equally as driven by the almighty dollar as they are by justice.
Kunihide Kiyomaru, a cold blooded pedophile and murderer, who finds himself in everyone's crosshairs when the victims Grandfather places a 1 billion dollar bounty on the criminals head. Charged with his safety and delivery to Tokyo for due process, Tokyo's finest police officers are assigned to the case and in protecting his life put their own on the line.
This is Japanese cinema on a Hollywood scale and proof that superstar director Takashi Miike (Audition, Ninja Kids!!!) can do no wrong.
With consideration given to the zombie film comparison, one thing that this film is severely lacking in is brevity. Weighing in at a hefty 125 minutes long, what should be relentless and non-stop action suffers from pacing issues that make the film feel laborious at times. That said, when the action is on, it's an absolute thrill ride and uses set pieces comparable to any major Hollywood production in both scale and realisation. Takao Osawa (Ichi, Goemon) is entirely convincing as an elite member of Tokyo's Metropolitan Police and portrays a sense of stoic restraint, that is until he unleashes with fists and firearms. Just as with Junichi Okada from Library Wars, Osawa is an entirely convincing action hero. While he may arguably be the more able of the team, his offsider Nanako Matsushima (Ring) is every bit as believable and looks as though she too knows how to handle a firearm.
Apart from questions of pacing, Shield of Straw delivers in every other area. The urban landscape between Fukuoka and Tokyo are shown to be as cold and heartless as the swarm of attackers after Kiyomaru's scalp. This is in itself a triumph by cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita (13 Assassins) who turns the entire backdrop of the film into a giant foreboding menace. Using a number of gorgeous aerial shots show the city landscapes as being labyrinthian and our protagonists as mice trying to escape. The action is helped along by a consistently heart-pounding score by another longtime collaborator, Koji Endo.
The true hero of this film in every possible way is Osawa. His calm, stoic and objective driven persona give an anchor point for the film amidst the constantly escalating insanity that follows the convoy. The true villain, however, exists outside the screen. Equal parts Dawn of the Dead and The Fugitive, Shield of Straw is yet another feather in the cap of one of Japan's most iconic directors.