The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi (1979) by Nobuhiko Obayashi

Famous detective Kosuke Kindaichi (Ikko Furuya) finds himself entangled in a mysterious case involving the missing head of a statue. A group of roller-skating, clown-costumed, art thieves are causing havoc with a spate of robberies. When they accost Kindaichi Kosuke and ask him to return to his only unsolved case, involving famous artist Haida, he sees the opportunity to finally answer that outstanding mystery. Along with officer Todoroki (Kunie Tanaka) and the leader of the theives Maria (Miyuki Matsuda), Kindaichi encounters a series of comedic situations in search of the culprits.

Based (very loosely) on the works of popular crime author Seishi Yokomizo, “The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi” is part detective story, part slapstick comedy, and part self-referential, fourth-wall breaking satire. The film credits Yokomizo’s work as its basis, with a screenplay by Koichi Saito and Akira Nakano, but it is director Nobuhiko Obayashi’s style that colours every moment of this lively crime caper. The Kindaichi of the film is a caricaturish figure playing up to his reputation as a dishevelled detective, with exaggerated tics such as scratching his head and his unkempt style marking him out as a figure of fun. The film rarely takes itself seriously, with numerous wordplay gags, pratfalls, animated moments, inexplicable appearances of Superman, and surrealist comedy representative of the counter-cultural trend tearing down revered figures. There are references to various Kindaichi cases from the books, a fun in-joke for those familiar with Yokomizo’s work. If you are a fan of the books however, this film will probably not be for you, as it seems to almost mock the very notion of the character. Obayashi brings the character of Kindaichi to the contemporary era of discotheques and rollerskating youths; and creates a bizarre confusion of non-sequitur humour and punchlines without set-ups. Later in the film there is even a Seishi Yokomizo cameo as his royalties for the Kindaichi stories are delivered, further muddying the waters about what is going on.

“The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi” is either an incomprehensible mess, a kaleidoscopic comic masterpiece, or a multi-layered self-reflective work that considers Kosuke Kindaichi as a fictional character as well as the protagonist of this story; and that comments on the police force and its depiction in media. Obayashi does not constrain himself to conventional storytelling, which can be both a good and a bad thing, allowing for an artistic and unique style that is able to express more than a straightforward story would; but also means throwing in several ill-fitting elements, the murder and mayhem struggling to find a tonal balance. The film is likely to have a mixed response, the audience’s enjoyment based on the extent to which they are willing to leave pre-conceptions and expectation behind and give in to the bohemian daring of Obayashi’s filmmaking.

First Love (2021) by Yukihiko Tsutsumi

Forensic psychologist Yuki (Keiko Kitagawa) is interviewing a young murderer for a new book. The girl, Kanna (Kyoko Yoshine), has apparently murdered her father and told police that they will have to find out why she did it. As Yuki begins loooking into Kanna’s past, her relationship with her mother and father, and her mistreatment at the hands of several men, it awakens dark memories of her own. Yuki is also forced to confront lawyer Kasho (Tomoya Nakamura), the brother of her husband Gamon (Yosuke Kubozuka), with whom she shares a secret.

Based on a novel by Rio Shimamoto, Tsutsumi’s film is a detective thriller in which the details of the case are less important than the reasons behind this crime. Kanna’s depiction early on, with a bloody knife and her seemingly apathetic response to killing her father suggests a psychopathic personality, but we soon discover the various traumas that led her to this moment. Yuki appears to be heading in the other direction, with a composed front disguising past heartache and emotional stress. The confrontations between Yuki and Kanna, either side of Perspex in a prison interview room are a highlight of the film, with outstanding performances by both Keiko Kitagawa and Kyoko Yoshine. The supporting cast are also great in nuanced roles, in particular Hoshi Ishida as Yuji, a young man who had a relationship with Yuki when she was younger. The script can be quite on-the-nose, driving home its themes of how childhood trauma can affect people and the horrors of child abuse. This often comes across in large expository scenes where they make sure that you understand what is happening; it may have benefitted from a more subtle approach. The film doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, with paedophilia, child abuse and exploitation, self harm, and sexual abuse being a large part of the plot. These things are mentioned in a very matter-of-fact way, which is appropriate for the psychologist and detectives objective viewpoint and also makes them more terrifying by the apparent ubiquity and mundane nature of these actions. The best moments of the film come with these revelations, which are genuinely heart-breaking. However, the film sometimes struggle to keep up a sense of tension and balance. In particular it ties together the stories of Yuki and Kanna in a way that is not wholly satisfactory, drawing a parallel between their stories that never quite rang true. In terms of the tone also the piano and strings score often seems overly sentimental, lacking the darker tones suggested by the story and being at odds with what is happening on screen. The film does feature some exceptional cinematography, utilising the interview room at the prison to great effect with the reflections of Yuki and Kanna showing their connection.

“First Love” is a film about childhood trauma and how it affects development. Both Yuki and Kanna suffered difficult incidents involving their fathers and other men, with the constant threat of sexual violence causing severe emotional detachment and unease in society. The film portrays these things in a subtle yet powerful way, with Yuki’s father gazing at schoolgirls, or the disturbing drawing of a young Kanna beside two naked male figures. One of the most troubling elements of the film is Kanna’s relationship with Yuji, which the film perhaps had too little time to delve into. Helped by Hoshi Ishida’s performance, the courtroom scene towards the end of the film is a devastating depiction of a man who has failed in his duty of protection to this young girl, his shame and regret evident. “First Love” can be a difficult watch due to the subject matter, but the excellent cast and beautiful cinematography make it worthwhile. It has very little in the way of answers, but in terms of raising awareness of these issues it does a spectacular job.

Cure (1997) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Detective Takage (Koji Yakusho) is investigating a mysterious string of murders. Despite the killers having no personal connection to one another, each crime displays an eerie similarity. The murderers all claim personal responsibility, but are unable to answer questioning about the circumstances of the incidents. All cut an X into their victims throat. Takage soon comes face to face with a former psychology student known as Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) who seems to be hypnotising these individuals into committing murder. Mamiya is unable or unwilling to answer questions, apparently suffering from amnesia, and instead insists on questioning his interrogators. Takage’s wife (Anna Nakagawa) is suffering from a form of dementia and his frustrations with his wife’s illness seem to spill over into anger at Mamiya’s crimes.

“Cure” styles itself as a detective drama with strong horror elements, though never quite gives itself over entirely to the tropes of genre cinema. Writer director Kiyoshi Kurosawa does a fantastic job of creating tension and much of the horror remains psychological, with no clear motivation established for Mamiya’s actions. The settings of decrepit hospital buildings and crumbling city streets help to build the sense that everything is falling apart, mirroring Takage’s mental deterioration. A flickering light in an underpass, abandoned buildings, and suburban decay augment the imperfections of humanity that the film explores. Kurosawa weaves together the story of the killer and the detective in an interesting way, with Takage’s suffering and quest for understanding becoming an unjust mockery when compared to Mamiya’s cold detachment and lack of responsibility. Kurosawa manages to give the audience enough hints to keep the mystery engaging while never fully letting us into its most tempting secrets. In the final scenes of the film this lack of a complete picture makes for a uniquely terrifying experience. Koji Yakusho plays Takage as the world-weary detective, weighed down by personal struggle as well as the seriousness of his professional duty. Masato Hagiwara engenders feelings of hatred and anger, with Mamiya’s lack of social grace, impertinence and dead-eyed psychopathy getting under the skin in a way that is irritating and makes Takage sympathetic. Tsuyoshi Ujiki plays Takage’s psychologist friend Sakuma and is a good balance to Takage’s seriousness. Likewise, Anna Nakagawa’s role is small but pivotal in understanding Takage, and she gives a sympathetic portrayal of a character with their own mental health issues.

The horror of “Cure” is not in the violence of the murders, which are shown as terrifyingly commonplace, nor gory effects, which are used sparingly, but in allowing us to confront our own lack of comprehension when it comes to such things. Detective Takage states early on that he wants to find the words to describe what is happening. His ultimate realisation that some things are inexplicable is more horrifying than a serial killer with a well-documented backstory. The film’s ending leave both Takage and Mamiya’s thoughts and morality ambiguous. The credits, with partially broken and missing names, give a hint that this ambiguity is intentional. Life is imperfect, humanity is imperfect, and attempts to create meaning may be futile. Death and madness are natural, and by contrast rationalising such things may prove to be ironically irrational. Throughout the film explanations for the murders range from demonic possession to hypnotism and psychosis, but the film leaves the audience with this fundamental questions unanswered. We are left to speculate on the causes of crime and the reason for suffering in the world, and led to an increasingly distressing conclusion. “Cure” is a thrilling drama that will appeal to any fans of thought-provoking horror or detective dramas with a psychological twist.

Metropolis (2001)

Based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka that is based on the film Metropolis (1924). The construction of a giant ziggurat by the Red Duke, leader of the Marduke group, brings huge crowds to the streets to celebrate this symbol of humanity’s progress. This is a city where robots and humans live side by side, although robots are often mistreated and hunted down if they step out of line. A detective from Japan, Ban, accompanied by his nephew, Kenichi, arrive in the city to find the killer of Professor Laughton. They are soon caught up in a plot involving the Red Duke, his homicidal protege Rock, a new type of robot, an anti-capitalist revolution, and more.

“Metropolis” does an incredible job of creating a believable city, with the bustle of crowds, airships flying overhead, machines whirring away, and the whole robot/ human society and interactions appear well thought out. There are so many details to take in that it is stunning. The influence of the original “Metropolis” is evidenced in the design of the city, it is sprawling with skyscrapers, motorways and street vendors. The jazz soundtrack gives this a unique twist on other science-fiction, and there is a blend of noir and steam-punk. The robots are clunking and unpolished, aside from Pero, the robot detective. The design of all the characters is interesting, with exaggerated features, bizarre haircuts and moustaches. It doesn’t attempt to go for realism but it remains consistent throughout. The story also does not shy away from violence, with several people being shot dead, and a number of quite emotionally distressing scenes.

The film has a lot to say about the direction that society is heading in. With increasing automation of jobs, robotics technology advancing, and the evolution of Artificial Intelligences. The haunting last words of the robot Tima “Who am I?” perfectly encapsulate many of the ideas surrounding  what robots are or may become. There is an interesting sub-plot involving the power and class distinctions between the Mardukes, a sort of Luddite religion that is strongly opposed to robotics, and the common people who have their own reasons for protesting robots.