Genres come with expectations, often advertised right on the poster. The one for Tadafumi Ito’s “Karasu no Oyayubi (Crow’s Thumb)” shows star Hiroshi Abe and his supporting cast looking well dressed and mostly wised-up, which makes good genre sense since they are playing con artists plotting to cheat some gangsters out of a small fortune. And by a convention dating back to Cary Grant and beyond, this sort of caper movie requires its criminal heroes to be witty and sophisticated and to end up finally on the side of the angels, if not always the law.
But when I saw “Crow’s Thumb” at its Tokyo International Film Festival world premiere, with Abe nowhere in sight (he was promoting another film and the rule was evidently one Abe appearance per festival), I realized that the poster was false advertising. Instead of a Riviera casino, we first see our hero Takeo “Take” Takezawa (Abe) at a seamy race track, impersonating a straight-arrow salaryman who knows zero about the ponies but wants to try his luck.