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“Strawberry Night” is the big screen version of the popular Japanese television drama of the same name, based on the bestselling crime novels by author Honda Tetsuya. Picking up where the first series and one-shot special left off, the film is adapted from “Invisible Rain”, following the hardboiled Detective Himekawa (Takeuchi Yuko) and her team as they investigate murders and police cover ups. The original television cast all return, joined by newcomers Osawa Takao (“Shield of Straw”) and Miura Tomokazu (“Outrage”).
The story starts with the murder of a gang member, which the police force’s Organised Crime Bureau is happy to pass off as being down to the rivalry between Yakuza groups. However, Detective Himekawa (Takeuchi Yuko) believes otherwise, and that it might be the work of a serial killer, the victim having a distinctive scar over his eye which matches two other recent cases. Her suspicions seem to be confirmed when she receives an anonymous call claiming that the murder was committed by a man called Yanai Kento – who her superior officers immediately demand she give up her efforts to track down. Sticking to her guns, Himekawa and her loyal team continue to investigate, matters becoming complicated when she runs into a high ranking gang member called Makita Isao (Osawa Takao), who is hunting Yanai for his own mysterious reasons. Sharing dark pasts and personal demons, Himekawa and Makita are drawn to each other, with serious consequences.
“Strawberry Night” is very much a police procedural, and is resolutely driven by its characters and drama rather than action. Thankfully, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the viewer needs to have seen the television series to enjoy or understand it, as though newcomers will undoubtedly miss out on some of the emotional impact and details, the film puts its focus for the main part on Himekawa herself rather than the rest of the team. She’s certainly a very interesting and compelling protagonist, and her position as a woman in a male dominated authoritarian environment allows the film to make some clever and entertaining gender reversals. Himekawa is every inch the traditional film noir style gritty detective, tormented by past trauma and at odds with her possibly corrupt superiors, and has more substance and complexity than the usual strong but vulnerable female figures that often turn up in this kind of thing.
Takeuchi Yuko is excellent and convincing in the lead, and brings real depth to the role, doing a great job of carrying the narrative and keeping the viewer engaged with both the murder mystery and her own emotional journey. Osawa Takao is also on good form as Makita Isao, a similarly interesting and well-written character, coming across as kind of a neat reversal on the accepted femme fatale role. Though it’s always obvious that he and Himekawa will get together, their courtship is a tense one, mainly since their being on opposite sides of the law will clearly have ramifications for both, as will the exposing of their unpleasant secrets. The film wins points for having such an atypical and destructive dynamic at its core rather than something more traditionally romantic, and as well as adding a degree of unpredictability to its outcome, this helps it to stand out from other similarly themed female detective outings.
In more general terms, the film also benefits from a strong, multi-layered story that works in plenty of twists and overlapping schemes and subplots. There’s a lot going on throughout, and while again some of the minutiae will likely be lost on the uninitiated, it’s well-structured and has a good sense of timing when it comes to revelations, with a few surprisingly harsh developments along the way. Series director and long standing Fuji TV helmer Sato Yuichi (who won Best Director at the 72nd Television Drama Academy Awards in Japan for his work on the series) does well to keep things moving and to balance the more detailed and potentially dry procedural aspects with the human drama, and though it perhaps inevitably feels a bit like an extended television episode, this isn’t really to the film’s detriment, especially for fans.
“Strawberry Night” works and impresses on several different levels, and rates highly either as a continuation of the television series or as a stand-alone police drama in its own right. It’s rare to see such a fascinating and challenging protagonist in this kind of genre material, let alone a female character, and, anchored by Takeuchi Yuko’s fine performance, the film grips throughout and leaves the viewer very much wanting to know where things might go from here.
Yûichi Satô (director) / Tetsuya Honda (based on the novel by)
CAST: Yûko Takeuchi … Reiko himekawa
Takao Ohsawa … Isao Makita
Tomokazu Miura … Wada