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.

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