Once Upon at Crime (2023) by Yuichi Fukuda

Red Riding Hood and Cinderalla get caught up in a murder investigation in this comic twist on the classic Grimm’s fairy tale. While out walking in the woods, Red Riding Hood (Kanna Hashimoto) comes across Cinderella (Yuko Araki). With the help of two witches they are transformed into beautiful dresses in time for the upcoming ball at which the prince (Takanori Iwata) is to choose a bride. Things begin to go wrong when their carriage, driven by a recently transformed mouse named Paul (Tsuyoshi Muro), hits someone on the road. The investigation into this death, of renowned stylist Hans (Masaki Kaji), sees doubt cast on several individuals before Red Riding Hood’s unique powers of perception and deduction begin to unravel the mystery.

“Once Upon a Crime” is a comic-fantasy that subverts the traditional fairy tales of Red Riding Hood and Cinderella by turning it into a detective drama. Based on a novel by Aito Aoyagi, it has a pantomime feel with over-the-top acting and anachronistic references that add a humorous accompaniment to the central story. The plot is farcical, continually wrongfooting the audience with each new twist, as the ridiculous evidence piles up. The cast do a great job with the comedy, largely aimed at children but with a surreal, nonsensical style that provides some fun moments, such as the mouse carriage driver being asked if he has a license, or the bickering between Barbara the witch (Midoriko Kimura) and Red Riding Hood over her lack of magical ability. The opulent costumes are sure to delight fans of fairytale princesses, along with the extravagant castle, ballroom scenes, and whimsical fantasy moments.

The film is a fun twist on the traditional princesses and damsels in distress, with a superb cast of non-conformist heroines, the whipsmart Red Riding Hood, with her Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction, the outrageous Barbara the Witch, whose incompetence is matched only by her self-belief; and Cinderalla, whose character is given more depth that we might expect. The film closes with hints of a sequel and it would be interesting to see what other wild adventures our heroine might end up in. Overall, a fun, lighthearted take on Cinderella with a wry sense of humour that nevertheless succeeds in creating sympathetic characters.

The Master Plan (2021) by Yuichi Sato

Makoto (Mackenyu Arata) and Kida (Takanori Iwata) are childhood friends, both orphans they have grown up with only each other for support. While still at school the two are joined by a third orphan, transfer student Yocchi (Anna Yamada). These three inseperable companions grow up together, with their feelings of friendship blossoming into romance. Years later, Makoto and Kida are working at a car repair shop when model Lisa (Anne Nakamura), the daughter of a prominent politician, arrives after having been involved in an accident. Makoto sets his sights on Lisa and spends years trying to get close to her. Meanwhile, Kida joins a shady organisation as a euphamistically labeled ‘negotiator’. As Makoto’s feelings develop for Lisa, Kida and Makoto’s relationship grow more complex as secrets from their past still linger between the two.

Based on the novel by kaoru Yukinari, “The Master Plan” is a thriller that relies heavily on a non-chronological structure to keep its secrets. Unfortunately, the plot is wound so tightly that when the revelation finally arrives it is the only possible answer to what has preceded. This mystery also leaves little time for serious character development or anything outside setting up the dominoes ready to knock them down in the final half hour. This finale also moves so far away from the realms of realism that it undermines some of the more interesting character work that has come before. There are certainly some positives in the film. The scenes with the three friends are charming, with the Arata, Iwata and Yamada having a believable chemistry and some great moments together. Their relationship is the heart of the film and they are sympathetic and enjoyable in their constant pranks and clear affection towards each other. The cinematography features some powerful moments, capturing the sense of youthful energy and anxieties about the future and director Yuichi Sato makes a stylish thriller, perfectly drawing out the tension between the players and the mystery lurking beneath the story. Naoki Sato’s score mirrors this sense of unease and hidden secrets.

While the film’s convoluted plot, featuring some inexplicable decisions, undeniably detracts from the emotional impact of the finale, the film does feature some fantastic, if disjointed, moments. Yocchi’s fear of being forgotten is one of the most affecting sentiments expressed throughout, and the film’s use of a back-and-forth approach to storytelling, moving between their childhood memories and the present, reflects this idea of a permanent connection with the past. The use of the crossroads, which play an important part in the story, as a metaphor for this juncture between past and present, where memory drifts like morning mist, is subtle yet effective. All three children are orphans, which makes their links to one another more important, being surrogate siblings and family for one another. “The Master Plan” is a film in which these interesting characters are unfortunately trapped in a tawdry thriller, with more interesting themes of family and memory ignored in favour of a second-rate mystery.