The popular Japanese “Unfair” franchise continues with “Unfair: The Answer”, the latest big screen outing based upon the popular Fuji Television female police series, adapted from the novels by author Hata Takehiko. Following on from “Unfair: The Movie” in 2007 and various made for television features and specials, the film again sees actress Shinohara Ryoko in the lead role as the hard drinking Detective Yukihara, with other cast members also returning and with regular series screenwriter Sato Shimako (“K-20”) directing as well as scripting.
The drama continues where “Unfair: The Movie” left off, with Yukihara having been transferred to a police station on Hokkaido, living a quiet life and carrying on a relationship with colleague Ichijo (Satô Kôichi). Her past catches up with her again when suspects from previous cases turn up dead in a series of nasty nail gun murders, leading to the killing of her ex-husband Kazuo (Kagawa Teruyuki). After her own fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, Yukihara is labelled as the prime suspect and is arrested, escaping with the help of Tokyo prosecutor Murakami (Yamada Takayuki) and going on the run in the hope of clearing her name. As more victims turn up it seems as if the murders are linked to a USB stick containing data about police corruption, leading Yukihara to suspect a far-reaching and sinister conspiracy in the corridors of power.
Thankfully, for anyone unfamiliar with the franchise, “Unfair: The Answer” kicks off with a scene setting prologue which outlines the events to date and fleshes out the characters (containing spoilers and meaning of course that any viewers interested in back tracking should probably just start with the television series or first film). As a result, it’s not too hard to get into the swing of things, and the film works well enough as a standalone feature, though obviously fans are likely to get a lot more out of the drama and relationships between the characters.
While its conspiracy aspect is more than a little confusing, the plot itself is solid, its mixture of detective procedural and serial killer traditions making for a few surprises along the way. Perhaps inevitably the film does at times feel episodic and like an extended version of the television show, though this does allow for a more measured approach that makes the film feel a little different to other more by the numbers big screen genre efforts. Of course, the downside to this is that in resembling the television series, the film arguably shows a lack of ambition and effort, Sato Shimako being content to simply stick to what he knows.
With the film mainly being fan-service however, this probably isn’t much of a criticism, and Sato certainly plays to the tried and tested strengths of the franchise, chiefly by keeping the focus on series heroine Yukihara. Shinohara Ryoko is undeniably great in the lead role, carrying the film and helping to make her detective a compelling and sympathetic protagonist, the script thankfully never pushing her too far in the “Dirty Harry” direction despite her tough and unconventional methods. This having been said, the film does get a touch perverse at times, and certainly puts her through the wringer, the serial killer angle leading to a few unpleasant scenes. Again in-keeping with the film’s television origins, Sato never works in anything too nasty or over the top, being more concerned with plot and dialogue than thrills, and though there are a few flashes of action he keeps things grounded. This does mean that the film can be a bit slow going at times, though in its favour there’s generally plenty going on and enough scheming to hold the interest.
“Unfair: The Answer” comes as a very straightforward recommendation to fans of the series, serving up more of the same in an efficient, if unambitious manner. The film should still be entertaining enough for viewers looking for a hard edged female cop drama, and whilst Sato Shimako’s direction is workmanlike and lacking in imagination throughout he at least never actually gets anything wrong or undermines his heroine.
Shimako Sato (director) / Shimako Sato (screenplay), Takehiko Hata (original novel)
CAST: Ryôko Shinohara … Natsumi Yukihira
Kôichi Satô … Michitaka Ichijo
Takayuki Yamada … Katsuaki Murakami
Sadao Abe … Yuji Kokubo
Masaya Katô … Kaoru Mikami
Nobuhiko Takada … Mitsuru Fukikoshi
Nao Ohmori … Osamu Yuki
Susumu Terajima … Tetsuo Yamazaki
Teruyuki Kagawa … Kazuo Sato