The most enthusiastic audiences in the world are in Montreal -- specifically at Fantasia Fest, the horror-fantasy-genre extravaganza that opened last night with a double bill of Warner Bros.: “The Conjuring,” to which Fantasia fans were provided a sneak peak before its theatrical opening today; and -- more intriguingly-- Japanese madman Takashi Miike’s less-than-lunatic “Shield of Straw,” a production of Warner Brothers Japan that got a less than lukewarm reception at Cannes this year, but found its way into the hearts of the Fantasian genre nuts filling the grand Imperial theater off the Rue Ste. Catherine.
As cop films go, it’s an odd animal. Miike, operating in a far more civilized groove than usual, is nonetheless telling an uncivil story: When a serial child-killer murders his granddaughter, a Japanese multi-billionaire industrialist (Tsutomu Yamazaki, whose career began in 1960) offers a billion yen to whoever kills the killer.
One of the conditions set by the vengeful Ninagawa is that it has to be a state-sanctioned killing – legal execution, or by police order – which makes the whole story more complicated than it need be. No doubt when the inevitable remake arrives, all the convolutions will be removed, the theme of Japanese national honor all but erased, the plotline streamlined and the bullet-train derailed, since we have nothing to compare to it. (The movie, incidentally, is a huge advertisement for high-speed rail.)
Anyway, the core of the story is great: How – and why -- does a team of honorable cops keep a despicable pedophile alive when the entire corpus of law enforcement has been corrupted, and turned into its own small nation of trained killers? If “Shield of Straw” weren’t subtitled, it could go out in the multiplexes today (it isn’t an art film, and thus becomes a white elephant). As it is, it’ll be really interesting to see what becomes of it in English, maybe at the hands of Baltasar Kormakur. Or Niels Arden Oplev. Or Nicolas Winding Refn. Or…