Friday, July 31, 2020

Fukada’s A Girl Missing

Crime shows always tell us the first 48 hours are the most critical for finding anyone abducted. Saki Oishi returns home after a full week (but it seems much shorter in screen-time). However, that does not mean her family’s troubles are over, whereas they are only getting started for their visiting nurse. It is not the crime, but the lies and betrayals that really cause bad karma in Koji Fukada’s

Ichiko Shirakawa started out as the caregiver for the Oishi grandmother and became a friend of the family. She is particularly close to the eldest daughter, Motoko, who intends to join her in the nursing profession. Of course, Shirakawa is deeply concerned when the younger sister Saki disappears and thankful when she is found. However, her relief turns to shock when she discovers the girl was abducted by her nephew, who most likely happened to see her while she was in Shirakawa’s company.

What does that have to do with Kazumichi Yoneda, the hairdresser Shirakawa is stalking (quite successfully)? That would be telling, but all will be revealed as Fukada toggles between two time-lines. it would certainly be fair to say the unsuspecting nurse does not handle the sudden revelation particularly adroitly. Instead, she responds in a very human way.

There are mysteries in
Girl Missing, but they are more about the dark places in people’s hearts than crime scenes and investigations. Regardless, it is gripping stuff, in a slow boiling kind of way. In the process, Fukada offers a withering off-hand critique of drive-by tabloid journalism.

Throughout it all, Mariko Tsutsui anchors the film with her smart, disciplined, and absolutely magnetic performance as Shirakawa. Sometimes she makes us cringe, but we still feel sympathy and even outrage for her situation. Mikako Ichikawa is almost too twitchy, immediately arousing viewer suspicions as Motoko, but she is also compulsively watchable.

There are some seriously uncomfortable scenes in
Girl Missing, but that reflects the integrity of Fukada’s writing. He is definitely a major international auteur, but rather oddly, it is his darker films that get picked up for American distribution (like Harmonium), rather than lighter works (such as Au Revoir, L’ete). This is obviously one of the former, yet it is surprisingly accessible, even with the split time-frames. Recommended for audiences with sophisticated taste, A Girl Missing opens virtually today (7/31).