Monday, June 20, 2016

NYAFF ’16: Twisted Justice

Mike Bloomberg would approve of the way Chief Inspector Yoichi Morohoshi takes care of business in Hokkaido. The questionable copper will make alliances with the Yakuza, deal speed, and completely disregard civil liberties in order to “keep guns off the streets.” Don’t you feel so much safer knowing he is based on the real Yoshiaki Inaba? The convicted cop’s memoir has now been adapted as Kazuya Shiraishi’s Twisted Justice (trailer here), the opening night selection of the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival, starring Rising Star Asia Award Winner Go Ayano.

The only reason the Hokkaido police recruited Morohoshi was for his judo skills. He held up his end of the bargain, leading their team to its first championship. However, if he hopes to make it on the Sapporo force, he will have to start scoring better on the competitive point system. The highest points are awarded for the recovery of any sort of gun that can be directly linked to a criminal. That obviously creates an incentive to plant guns on random lowlife fall guys. Of course, to do that, Morohoshi will need an illicit source of firearms. Fortunately, a local small time Yakuza and his Pakistani contractor are more than willing to help, in exchange for Morohoshi’s protection.

Following this strategy, with some degree of wink-wink-nudge-nudge approval from his superiors, Morohoshi rides high for years. Inevitably, the party will end, most likely with a bang rather than a whimper. Nevertheless, Morohoshi will survive to be banished to the Yubari hinterlands, but this corrupt cop just doesn’t know when to quit.

Beyond the spot-on period trappings, Twisted has a gritty, grimy 1970s vibe that recalls classics like Friedkin’s The French Connection, Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine, and Kinji Fukasaku’s Cops vs. Thugs. However, there is nothing glamorous about Morohoshi’s debauchery. In fact, Shiraishi makes it uncomfortably clear Morohoshi’s corruption leads to debasement rather than empowerment. Seriously, you do not want to be him.

Still, you have to admire the way Ayano dives into Morohoshi’s depraved and erratic persona. He fully commits to all the excesses and humiliations. Thanks to his work, Twisted becomes an epic of personal self-destruction. However, Pierre Taki scene-stealing reaches kleptomaniacal levels as the hedonistic Det. Sadao Murai, the old, slightly crooked salt, who first shows Morohoshi how to bend the rules to his advantage. Likewise, the performance of Gravure (pin-up) Idol-turned actress Haruna Yabuki as the hostess-lover Morohoshi leads even further astray is nakedly open and honest, in every sense.

It really is mind-boggling how much gangster behavior is condoned and even committed all for the sake of confiscating a few firearms. You do not have to be a member of the NRA to consider it madness, but you might consider joining by the time Shiraishi’s epic concludes. Living up to its title, Twisted is a sweeping indictment of public safety claims used to justify terribly venal forms of graft. It is also a relentlessly slick barn-burner that never compromises or waters-down its ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter. Highly recommended, Twisted Justice screens this Wednesday (6/22) and next Tuesday (6/28) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.