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(Screened at the 2013 Raindance Film Festival)
Controversial writer director Gen Takahashi returns with “Court of Zeus”, a courtroom drama which aims to lift the lid on corruption in the Japanese judiciary system. Gen is of course no stranger to such themes, having painted a less than favourable picture of the country’s police force in his superb 2006 offering “Confessions of a Dog”, a film which for many years struggled to earn the domestic release it undoubtedly deserved. Working again with director of photography Ryuji Ishikura and composer Jun Murakami, who scored his creatively morbid 2008 horror “Goth”, the film is another fiercely incendiary piece from the director, though this time one with a slightly different approach.
Starring Hijiri Kojima (“The Love and Death of Kaoru Mitarai”), Shun Shioya (“Tokyo Noir”), Hironobu Nomura (“The Go Master”) and Jun Kawamoto, the film follows Kano, a fast-rising young judge and the perfect product of the court system, who spends his days passing as many judgements as possible based on time-honoured precedents. Ruling over his court like the mighty Zeus, his defendants are considered guilty almost by default, verdicts being handed out based on a complete and unquestioning acceptance of the evidence provided by the police and prosecutors. Unfortunately for Kano, his career is put in jeopardy when his fiancée Megumi, herself a former left-wing sympathiser at university, starts to feel uncomfortable with his rigid rules and way of life, and makes a series of decisions which land her in the dock and facing his judgement.
As with “Confessions of a Dog”, “Court of Zeus” sees Gen Takahashi doing a great job of depicting a corrupt and inherently fallible system in fascinating detail, having based his script on a collection of real life anecdotes and cases. The portrayal of the Japanese courts is likely to be quite shocking to western viewers, with its judges seeming to be unconcerned with the niceties of innocence, and with the lack of a jury or democratic safeguards making it a breeding ground for corruption. It’s powerful stuff, and without ever turning the film into a lecture or rant, Gen gets his point across with a sense of passion throughout. On this level, the film represents a logical step up the chain from “Confessions”, and viewed together, the two certainly make for a negative, though convincing and grounded examination of two of the cornerstone institutions of Japanese society.
At the same time though, “Court” is really quite a different film to “Confessions”, Gen moving away from its fractured, near-documentary style and working his themes into a more commercially friendly and accessible format and style. As a result, the film has a lot more melodrama and comedy than might be expected, and is structured more in the manner of a traditional courtroom thriller. Thankfully, though it might catch unsuspecting viewers off-guard, this works very well, and doesn’t see Gen dumbing things down by any means – if anything, the film now feels somewhat more subversive, its message being subtly though effectively put across under the guise of an ironic reflection of the clichés of the usual traditional heroic judge or lawyer focused tales.
This having been said, Gen does push things perhaps a little too far during the last act, and, ironic or not, some of the final courtroom shenanigans could perhaps have been trimmed, especially with the film clocking in at a long two hours and fifteen minutes. This isn’t too much of a problem however, and most of the humour finds its mark, the film being very funny in places with some delightfully unexpected and jarring moments of odd comedy helping to keep things moving along. This also prevents the film from ever becoming too dry, as for all its intrigue and real world corruption, had it simply stuck to the facts and paraded a long series of injustices and technicalities, it might well have ended up being a little stoic.
“Court of Zeus” is another great achievement by Gen Takahashi, and it’s immensely rewarding to see a writer and director managing to make a film like this and to tell a story that he’s very obviously passionate about. Though different to “Confessions of a Dog”, it’s a fitting companion piece, and hopefully its mix of challenging subject matter, offbeat comedy and often mad melodrama will find an appreciative audience.
More info on the film can be found over on Gen Takahashi’s website.
Gen Takahashi (director) / Gen Takahashi (screenplay)
CAST: Shun Shioya