Confessions of a Dog (2006) by Gen Takahashi

Takeda (Shun Sugata) is promoted from a lowly beat officer to the investigations department. While the money is good, helping to support his pregnant wife (Harumi Inoue), he soon discovers that corruption is rife in the force, with the police taking a cut from Yakuza drug deals. On the orders of his superiors he carries out his duty diligently, the line between right and wrong slowly vanishing from sight. When a new recruit, Roppo, starts at Takeda’s old police job he is shown the ropes by two older patrolmen, who give him an insight into how they operate and the various scams they perpetrate with immunity. After a run in with the police in which he is beaten up for prying in their business, a bar owner, Kusama (Junichi Kawamoto), and his photo journalist friend, Kitamura (Kunihiko Ida), set out to expose the corruption in the police force that goes right to the top.

Gen Takahashi’s film is a cross between a morality play and an investigative documentary. While the characters and plot are fictional, there is a chilling ring of truth to everything. The inspiration for the story came from Takahashi’s friend, journalist Yu Terasawa, who has worked on uncovering police corruption. The low-level officers are shown to be violent and horny, abusing their position to commit assault and even rape. The conspiracy of silence surrounding them allows them to act without fear of reprisal. The detectives are no less reprehensible, although more organized in their lawbreaking, with everything from entrapment, witness intimidation, drug use, frequenting prostitutes, protection rackets and bribery on display. The film is unrelenting in its depiction of the police as a force for evil in society, with not a single redeemable character among them. Shun Sugata’s performance as Takeda perfectly captures the fall of an honest, gentle man into his role as just another cog in the corrupt machinery of the state. His monologue at the end is spine-chilling as he tears apart the thin veil of respectability to show the police for what they truly are. Although the script is heavy in detail, with Takahashi clearly wanting to get across as much as possible about all the various ways the police are corrupt, it does a decent job of weaving it into a cohesive narrative. It never comes across as a lecture on the evils of the police. Takeda’s wife and daughter offer further emotional weight to the drama, being emblematic of the life he is leaving behind when he becomes further involved with the scandals that are unfolding. “Confessions of a Dog” features some standout direction, at times like a police procedural, at others using theatrical techniques with lighting changes and monologues to make a strong point.

Police corruption is a serious issue and one that citizens should rightly be aware of given the trust that is placed in them. The film is all the more shocking for the realistic way in which it portrays police corruption from the lowest to the highest levels. Most crime films exaggerate to the point that they are hard to believe, but nothing that is shown here seems unbelievable. The film comments on the nature of this corruption as something that is inseparable from the police force, with the hierarchical structure and solidarity amongst officers engendering these behaviours. There are echoes of fascism in the idea that officers are ‘only following orders’ from their superiors. It blames a supine press, essentially repeating official statements to a largely oblivious public for the problem; offering a faint hope that people could be better informed and take action to prevent these things happening. An epic police drama that meticulously details corruption in the force, while at the same time telling a heart-breaking personal story about how such organizations can turn even good natured individuals into unquestioning servants of a damaging system.

Psycho-Pass (2012) Series One

Akane Tsunemori (Kana Hanazawa) has recently joined the police as an Investigator tracking down dangerous criminals. Due to advances in technology they are now able to determine an individual’s crime coefficient and take them down without the need for evidence or trial. The Investigators work together with Enforcers, people who have high crime coefficients but work on the side of the law, whose criminal tendencies make them ideally suited to tracking and capturing other criminals. They use guns known as Dominators, which give a reading and will allow either a paralysing or fatal shot to be taken. Among the Enforcers in Akane’s unit is Shinya Kogami (Tomokazu Seki), a man who was once an investigator himself, but whose obsession over a particular case led him to tip over into criminality. Akane’s respect for him puts her at odds with her superior investigator Ginoza (Kenji Nojima), who believes that Enforcers and Investigators are fundamentally different and that her role should be more that of a handler than a colleague. They soon find themselves on the trail of a serial killer named Shogo Makishima (Takahiro Sakurai) who appears to be able to outwit them at every turn. His apparent lack of a crime rating also leads them to question the morality of deciding right and wrong based on the “crime coefficient”.

An intelligent crime drama, “Psycho-Pass” takes theories of criminalistics and forensic psychology to their natural conclusion in a futuristic setting. In deciding that people can be categorised as criminal or innocent through a simple number based on various factors, society has given itself over to notions of right and wrong being determined by computer. In this world there is no room for nuance. There are no crimes of passion, crimes of necessity or opportunity, only crimes. The calculation of this number is opaque, nevertheless the police force have completely prostrated themselves before the technology – and the all-powerful Sibil System that controls it – no longer trusting their own judgement of a person’s character. As well as this criminological aspect, there is also a more philosophical theme running throughout. The notion that people are fated to be a certain way, and that in fact the moral or right path for a person is to do that thing they feel most suited for, even if that involves crime or killing. Essentially, the technology has taken away people’s free will as they are forced into behaving exactly as the machine wants them to, whether right or wrong. As the series progresses the various flaws in this seemingly utopian system become apparent. Ideas of good and evil are subject to question and various revelations regarding the characters leads the viewer to reassess what they have perceived about this world. In Makishima, the series has a villain that is a perfect foil to the protagonists. While they are bound to the law, he is entirely lawless, perhaps even in a Nietzschean sense “Beyond Good and Evil”, believing that the only moral path for a person is to do what they wish or are best at. A secondary villain emphasises this point even more, that criminality is often a matter of context; psychopathy often being a useful aberration in human populations, perhaps the desire to confront and destroy pre-existing systems being a necessity for humankind to progress.

The animation by Production IG (Ghost in the Shell) is exceptional. Textured surfaces, background details and lighting effects all help to create the sense of a real world. Likewise, weather effects such as the pouring rain in the opening episode, or wind rustling coat collars, work towards the noirish feel. There are a number of technologies in the film, such as the avatars that characters can create around themselves, that are interesting additions to the world. The visualisation of online spaces is also well done with unique character designs. The series does not shy away from depicting violent and brutal crimes, with abuse and murder both graphically portrayed. This all helps to create a sense of dread that pervades the story. You are aware early on that there really are lives at stake if the detectives fail to catch the killer. An absolutely thrilling ride from start to finish, with high-tension action sequences and a story that goes headlong for several important questions about how society is managed. A blend of all the best elements of cyberpunk and noir detective stories, with themes of criminality and societal control that encourage the audience to think about the potential implications of these things on our own world.

Beach Volleyball Detectives Parts 1 and 2 (2007) by Yumi Yoshiyuki

While playing volleyball, a group of three female officers see a man spying on them. After running him down they find a memory stick containing information about a nuclear bomb threat. The group are joined by a CIA operative who arrives and the four of them must go undercover. They sign-up for an international volleyball tournament alongside Chinese, Indian and Russian teams. The Chinese competitors, under the auspices of the mysterious “Black Sun”, are planning to destroy the world and it is up to the Japanese to stop them.

“Beach Volleyball Detectives” is a film that has a concept that could absolutely have worked in the right hands. The farcical plot and blend of low-brow titillation and slapstick humour do provide a few good moments, but on the whole they are undermined by the poor production quality. The locations in Chiba are hardly fitting for the sexy tone the film is trying to establish and the sets are usually no more than empty rooms dressed with a few posters and props. In a film such as this a silly and unbelievable plot and wooden acting is hardly a significant drawback, but the film never reaches that critical mass of humour or outrageousness, often being bland and uncreative. The actresses are there to look good and little else. There are jokes about Chinese, Russian and Indian stereotypes that again suffer from poor execution. It feels as though little effort was put into anything beyond the basic premise, which makes it remarkable they managed to convince even this small cast to star in it. Film’s like the live-action “Cutie Honey” and “Oppai Volleyball” show that the problem is not necessarily with the fundamentals, but with the execution. Likewise, “Ping Pong” and “Prince of Tennis” are examples of over-the-top sports comedies that are engaging. The problem here is that not enough effort went into the production. An egregious example of this is in the use of CGI volleyballs. There is absolutely no reason why the actresses could not have strung together a couple of plays, and in the close-up one shots it is completely unnecessary to use special effects. I loved the concept of players each having a video game-esque special move, but again this was undermined by poor quality graphics. They could have done more of the visual gags with practical effects with just a little more creative thought.

Overall, “Beach Volleyball Detectives” is probably one best avoided. It is lacking in quality humour, script, dialogue, acting and special effects. It is almost incredible that a film about women playing beach volleyball can be so uninteresting.

Tokyo Gore Police (2008)

Set a near future dystopia where the newly privatised Tokyo Police Force does battle against augmented humans known as “Engineers”, a highly skilled officer Ruka fights to uncover what is driving the spate of violence across the city. The film begins with a friendly announcement by a policeman explaining that they are there to help the citizens. This is rudely interrupted when his head explodes in a shower of blood that is unexpected and genuinely shocking. It should be said before we proceed much further that this film takes a strong stomach to get through as there are some genuinely disturbing images throughout. Following this we cut to one of these “Engineers”, a zombie-like being with a chainsaw replacing one arm. He has killed a lot of people and after dispatching an entire police troop in a brutal symphony of churned up viscera, severed body parts, and fountains of blood, our heroine Ruka, armed with a katana is sent in to clean up, expertly disarming the criminal (pun fully intended). This opening sequence serves as a sort of aperitif for what is to follow. If you can get through it without vomiting, then you are probably good to proceed (although they do continuously attempt to outdo this bold opening). The police manage to dig a key-shaped tumour out of the corpse’s head and it is this that is believed to make them into killers, somehow transforming ordinary citizens into bloodthirsty monsters who adapt their bodies to make them more efficient at bloody slaughter.

Although it is buried beneath all the insanity there is a fairly standard cop-drama plot driving Tokyo Gore Police from one outrageous set-piece to the next. It is admirable that they attempted to do something with Ruka’s character and there are even emotional scenes concerning her relationship with her father and issues with depression that help create a somewhat rounded character. Eihi Shiina (Audition) plays the heroine with style pulling off both drama and action. The film also includes a number of satirical commercials that play throughout. These largely poke fun at police violence and the suicide problem in Japanese society. Subtlety is not something this film frets over and it is fun to see the extreme way that topics are handled. The one issue I had with the story is that it is a little disjointed. Themes will be raised and then not mentioned for a long time and scenes are occasionally edited together in sequences that do not work to the best advantage of the story. But in a film such as this, the story is really the last thing people are probably concerned about. Its primary loyalty is to horror and gore aficionados. This schlock horror goes out of its way to disgust. There is a great deal of creativity and the special effects are praiseworthy. It is great to see practical effects being used for the arterial spray and prosthetics for creatures and it makes everything more shocking than CG could ever have been. Even though you know it is just rubber and make-up you can’t help but cringe when you see people being torn up by drills or chainsaws. It should be said that there is a huge amount of humour in the film and it is clear from the over-the-top nature of everything that is going on that it is not meant to be taken too seriously. Director Yoshihiro Nishimura clearly has a great creative flair. One of the more surprising things about the film is that there were some well-crafted scenes of horror. The sequence on the train was genuinely terrifying without resorting to the grotesque. On the flipside there were disappointments when scenes such as the impact of Ruka self-harming seemed undercut by the cartoonish way it was displayed. The film actually seems unhinged at times as it veers from satire to horror to outrageous comedy.

The main theme of the film is police privatisation. It satirises the commercialisation and corporatisation of the police force and public bodies. It is also critical of the sort of enjoyment ordinary people have in seeing criminals punished in violent and inhumane ways, perhaps suggesting there is little difference between the criminals and law-abiding citizens in their basic aggression. The main villain, it is revealed, injected himself with the essences gathered from various serial killers, thus becoming a violent killer himself. This is the point at which the film becomes a little confused and seems to have had a strong idea but not the conviction to follow it through or work out a sensible plot to develop it. Instead these ideas are cast to the wind for the audience to make of what they will. This is also true of the suicide sub-plot. We learn that Ruka self-harms and are then treated to a blackly-comic commercial of high-school girls encouraging their peers to buy a special knife and cut themselves. A couple more advertisements throughout cement this theme as a central pillar of the film. But once again it is left hanging as a sort of interesting aside and has no real bearing on the plot. If you can stomach extreme gore, indescribably outrageous set-pieces of sex, violence and brutality (all with a dark comic angle), then this could be the film for you. A movie that has to be seen to be believed.