Thursday, November 03, 2022

Missing: A Kind of Serial-Killer Thriller We Haven’t Seen Before

These days, it is hard for ping pong parlors to compete with video games for the gaming market. Satoshi Harada ought to know. His ping pong business went under, soon after his wife died. Understandably, he has been in a bad way ever since. This film is not likely to do much to improve ping pong’s commercial popularity, even though it holds some sentimental appeal for Harada’s daughter, Kaeda. The outlook for Harada is not much better when he disappears in Shinzo Katayama’s Missing, which opens tomorrow in theaters.

It seems like Kaeda takes care of her moody father more then vice versa. Her pleading just got him out of an embarrassing shoplifting charge, so she is in no mood to listen to his crazy-talk about recognizing the notorious “No Name” serial killer, Terumi Yamauchi. However, it suddenly sounds significant when he disappears without a trace. It takes her a while to put together the pieces, but she eventually deduces Yamauchi has been using her father’s phone and assuming his identity.

With the help of a prospective boyfriend, she tracks Yamauchi to the coastal village, where he has been hiding. At this point, Katayama flashes back to show us the full tragic story. The nature of Yamauchi’s murders will definitely unsettle a lot of viewers, even, or maybe especially, those who usually embrace “edgy” subject matter. What makes
Missing so unusual and provocative is the nature of Yamauchi’s murders. Frankly, he does not even see himself as a killer, but rather a service provider. Let’s just say in the assisted suicide debate, he is the ultimate slippery slope. He is also a sadist sociopath.

As a result, the reviews for
Missing will likely be quite tortured and conflicted, but it is in fact quite a sinister and intense serial killer thriller. It shares a kinship with early Kiyoshi Kurosawa films, both in terms of theme and tone. Even Katayama’s scenes in broad daylight (evocatively shot by cinematographer Naoya Ikeda) feel dark and moody.

Aoi Ito gives a wonderfully understated and vulnerable performance as Kaede Harada. Viewers will instantly sympathize with her and admire her resiliency. Jiro Sato also helps reveal all the hidden complexities to the massively flawed and troubled Poppa Harada. He takes us on quite a trip. On the other hand, Hiroya Shimizu is certainly creepy as Yamauchi, but not in any kind of way that we haven’t seen before.

Nevertheless, there is a lot in
Missing we haven’t seen before, because American filmmakers would be too chicken to go there. That is why Asian cinema regularly produces such superior thrillers—no safe spaces, so to speak. Katayama and co-screenwriters Kazuhisa Kotera and Ro Takada take a deep dive into the heart of darkness, but also show sympathy for the characters who lose their souls there. Very highly recommended, Missing opens tomorrow (11/4) in Brooklyn at Film Noir and Los Angeles at the Laemmle Glendale.