Takeshi Miike is best known for uber violent and controversial fare such as Visitor Q (2001) and Ichi the Killer (2001) amongst others. Ace Attorney (2012), based on a series of Nintendo DS games is somewhat less controversial, though it is seemingly rather a random choice of property for Miike to turn his attention to.
The film sees a young, not very good, attorney Phoenix Wright taking on a couple of cases against extremely high profile and undefeated prosecutors. This is a (presumably near future) world where overcrowded courts mean that every case must be settled within three days, usually much quicker. Wright’s inability to be anything but a really terrible lawyer was one of the ongoing frustrations for me throughout the film. When the holes in his opponent’s cases are so glaring that I pick up on them straight away, but someone else needs to point them out to Wright, it is a gap in logic that is annoying when repeated. That quibble aside though, this addition to a strong tradition of very absurd Japanese cinema, is still a lot of fun. Also, despite Wright’s professional failings, the court scenes function surprisingly well, being successful as courtroom drama. A lot of this is down to the fact that the performances are all really good, especially from Hiroki Narimiya as Phoenix Wright who is able connect with the audience emotionally, even when silliness rages around him. Narimiya also conveys a kind of comedic innocence that is reflected in the film more generally, because when the film is at its best, it too has this comedic innocence going on.
One issue with many absurdist films such as this one is that they are a little too uncontrolled. An over the top scattershot approach is engaging for a short time, but becomes tiresome over the course of 90 to 120 minutes. And whilst Ace Attorney is a little too long, it avoids getting old by cultivating and maintaining a really strong emotional core to the narrative. The actions of every character are easily understandable due to the background that we have been given to each of them. By having an emotional underpinning to everything, the film is able to get away with much more absurdity than it otherwise might have been able to. The sheer absurdity of it all is still definitely there though. Much of it in this vision of the near future comes out of the really great design especially the wardrobe and brilliantly over the top hair stylings. Whilst different to the majority of his cinematic output, Ace Attorney still shows off Miike’s quality as a director. Stylistically he is able to throw a lot at the screen – slow motion, CGI and bullet time all show up in the first two minutes – and have a vast majority of it stick. Overall the style somehow manages to invoke anime and video games whilst still also managing to work as a cinematic piece.
Come for the silliness you would expect to arise from Takeshi Miike directing an adaptation of a courtroom video game, stay for the emotional heart. Ace Attorney doesn’t always work, but it is good fun when it does
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
This week thanks to Madman Entertainment, you have the chance to win a copy of Ace Attorney plus two other Japanese films on DVD. Head here for all the details on how to enter.