Title: Ace Attorney
Director: Takashi Miike
Staring: Hiroki Narimiya, Mirei Kiritani, Kimiko Yo, Takumi Saito, Ryo Ishibashi, Akiyoshi Nakao
Plot: Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya) is a novice lawyer brought in to first defend Maya Fey (Mirei Kiritani) for the murder of her sister Mia (Kimiko Yo), a case which pits him against expert prosecutor Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saito), whom he is soon called on to defend when he is charged with murder in a case which will see him having to face the legendary Mandred Von Karma (Ryo Ishibashi) who is yet to loose a case in forty years! However despite seemingly being separate cases Phoenix soon realises that the two cases may be more linked than first appeared.
Review: For one reason or another it seems that the courtroom thriller has become something of a lost artform, or at least a concept which isn’t exactly crying out box office potential or so it would seem to the studio bosses, especially considering how long it has been since we last saw a new addition to this genre. Still thankfully Takashi Miike latest film sets out to resolve this with his latest film which continues to mark out a noticeable change for Miike and the films he is choosing to make, for it would seem as his profile as a director continues to rise that the former L’enfant terrible of Asian cinema Takashi Miike is mellowing with age, something which become more and more clear with each new film he releases, especially having reached the zenith of splatter with the notorious “Ichi the Killer”. Yet despite being responsible for some of the most shocking cinema ever created, this film marks his current interest in moving away from the ultra violence and Triad movies which he crafted his legacy with and his focus on working in other genre’s as here he presents his adaptation of the popular video game “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” a film which once again shows that Miike is more than capable of adapting his visual style to any genre he chooses.
Based on the second and forth cases in the game, but rather than trying to make the usual video game adaptation mistake of trying to bring the events of the game into a real world setting, Miike here instead throws us something of a curve ball by giving us a live action version of the game, but changing none of it’s video game styling’s. So cue anime hairstyles, overly dramatic characterisation and court room proceedings like you have never seen before, as evidence isn’t just presented but blown up onto giant holographic images.
Despite the character of Phoenix Wright perhaps not having the instant recognition as a popular video game character, Miike makes the film still highly accessible to those who might not even realise that it is a video game adaptation or folks like myself who don’t own a DS and hence have not played the games, as he instead skilfully combines moments of madcap comedy within the framework of a courtroom thriller. However despite the title, when we meet Phoenix he is anything close to the “Ace Attorney” the title would have you believe he is, for while the prosecutors he faces dress like French noblemen projecting an air of unflappable confidence, Phoenix on the other hand is a lot more green as he frequently finds himself flustered by the prosecution while somehow always managing to amass a mountain of papers on his desk from seemingly nowhere. Yet despite this lack of courtroom experience he is also prone to moment of decisive genius with an eye for the most minute of details, while also receiving perhaps a slightly unfair amount of assistance from the psychic projections of Maya.
These courtroom sequences are far from dreary procedure and tedious statements, as the sci-fi edge of having the evidence shown as projections, which can be easily moved around and enlarged in the courtroom keep things fast paced and easy to follow, especially when the key points of the evidence are blown up to such gigantic scale it’s hard not to realise what is currently the point of focus in the case. Still within the Ace Attorney universe, the courts are inundated with so many cases that the Japanese legal system have turned to carrying out “bench trials” were the two attorneys are given three days to present their cases before a judge, though I’ve no idea whose random it was to have the verdicts appear in huge letters erupting out of confetti explosions!?! Still despite the surreal presentation of the cases they are still surprisingly meaty and genuinely engaging as Miike crafts a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue, surprise evidence and objections, while once again making me wonder why Asian cinema has got such an effective grasp over the use of CGI in it’s films, while Hollywood’s attempts to master this technique still continue to noticeably take the viewer out of the film rather than add to it in any way.
Still clocking in at just over two hours, the film certainly has a generous run time, which feels more than justified here, especially when it is just so much fun to spend time within this world, whether battling cases in court or just hunting for new clues in the case, which usually involves Phoenix encountering one of the random local residents, the majority of whom have been given some form of comical edge, especially when it comes to the madcap antics of Phoenix’s childhood friend Larry (Akiyoshi Nakao). We are also frequently given flashbacks to Phoenix’s school days were it would seem that the Japanese school system likes to promote mock courtroom debates early on, while more amusing is that all the characters dress exactly the same with the only difference being the fact that they are being played by child actors.
For the soundtrack Miike has once again teamed up with K?ji End?, to provide another memorable soundtrack, which takes it’s cues from the game and combining it with newly composed background music which perfectly suits the action and certainly adds the required drama and tension when required, while the colourfully named Japanese group “Porno Graffitti” who previously have provided music for both the anime series “Full metal Alchemist” and “Bleach” and here continue provide another memorable song with the theme song “Spark”.
Ultimately this film manages to combine both elements of courtroom drama with a warm sense of humour, while proving once that Miike is far more than a one trick pony, as he once more surprises us with his range as a director, while loosing none of his visual flair. This is not only a gentle introduction to his film, especially considering the splatter of his early films which made him so popular to begin with, especially with some western fans who will continue to groan with frustration as he moves further away again from his gore soaked roots. However I can safely say that this was one of the few occasions were I feel a sequel to this film cannot come quick enough.