Review by: Mountain Monkey
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Since Ichi the Killer melted our brains back in 2001, your hardworking friends at SCUM have sworn to catch all of director Takashi Miike’s flicks, no matter how turgid. Unfortunately, since Ichi (with the exception of occasional flashes of brilliance like Big Bang Love or 13 Assassins), Miike’s films have been more stale than inspirational. Case in point was the annoying splatterfest Lesson of the Evil (2012). ‘Shield of Straw’ continues Miike’s erratic trend, but is nonetheless engaging enough as a thriller to sit through without reaching for the fast forward button one too many times.
Doing away with all traces of gore and ultra-violence, Shield of Straw is Miike in one of his more mainstream moods. The film (based on a novel by manga author Kazuhiro Kiuchi) revolves around psychopathic killer Kunihide Kyomaru (of Battle Royale fame), who murders the seven year old daughter of a terminally-ill billionaire, Ninagawa (played by screen veteran Tsutomu Yamazaki). Ninagawa announces through the Japanese media that he will handsomely reward anyone who kills Kunihide. Given the combination of killer’s truly awful crimes (he’s killed more than one child) and the attractive reward, this inevitably means that the entire Japanese public is after Kunihide’s hide.
Seeking to uphold the Japanese judicial system through due process and a fair trail, five elite police officers are assigned to protect Kunihide as he’s transported from jail to court. The endless attempts at lynching the killer puts an inevitable strain on the core team, as they begin to crack under pressure and temptation.
While the premise of the film is original and intriguing, at over two hours, the thriller is overly long and dawdles at times. The actors all put in solid performances and the film is stylishly shot, but the relentlessly grim mood and single-mindedness of the script makes the movie a marathon to sit through beyond the hour and a half mark.
Shaving 30 minutes or so off the movie would have placed Shield of Straw up there with Miike’s greats. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait till The Mole Song (2014) to find out if Miike still has it as one of Japan’s cinematic bad boys.