Japanese commercial thrillers ought to come with this disclaimer: “No fictional characters were harmed in the making of this movie.” Despite plots that involve kidnappings (as in “Bayside Shakedown”/ “Odoru Daisosasen,”1998), murders (“Bayside Shakedown 2,” 2003) or bomb threats (“Bayside Shakedown 3,” 2010), their on-screen body count is often as close to zero as possible — or impossible.
As the above examples indicate, the popular “Bayside Shakedown” series, with its comic jabs at cop bureaucracy and its bloodless action, led the way for many later thrillers. Made more for the local TV audience than for foreign fans who expect thrillers to, well, thrill, they typically feature puzzle plots as far removed from current criminal/terrorist realities as the cases of Sherlock Holmes. To fill the time before the inevitable rescue or arrest, they busy themselves with over-caffeinated comedy and melodrama familiar from countless domestic TV drama series.
All of the above applies to Teruyuki Yoshida’s “The Rondo of the Squall,” a thriller revolving around the theft of a secret biological weapon called K-55 from a medical research lab. Based on a 2013 novel by Keigo Higashino, whose best-sellers are turned into movies and TV dramas with clock-like regularity, the film quickly devolves into farce, though gags are not its main aim. This is fortunate for broadcaster Kansai Telecasting and other members of the film’s “production committee” (seisaku iinkai), since laughs are few.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||108 mins|
When the lab’s excitable elderly chief (Akira Emoto) receives an email from a disgruntled former employee demanding ¥300 million in return for the location of the stolen K-55, he goes ballistic. If word gets out, he fears, the lab’s reputation will be toast, so no calling the cops. Instead, the chief orders his senior researcher, Kazuyuki Kuribayashi (Hiroshi Abe), to find the jar containing the K-55. Its location is being signaled by a transmitter stuffed inside a teddy bear, but only for four days until its battery runs out. Then the employee turns up dead — Kuribayashi knows only that the bear and jar are somewhere in a huge ski resort.
A klutz on skis, our bumbling hero soon finds himself neck-deep in the snow, and calls on the aid of a stalwart ski patrolman Yuko Oshima (Tadayoshi Okura) and an expert (if cutely attired) snowboarder who is skeptical of his completely made-up story that he is looking for a life-saving drug. Kuribayashi’s sulky teenage son (Tatsuomi Hamada) makes friends with the local kids, starting with a pretty junior high schooler (Sayu Kubota), while a pudgy guy in a pigtailed ski cap (Tsuyoshi Muro) takes an abnormal interest in Kuribayashi and his doings.
More complications develop, from the ridiculous to the tear-jerking, before the battery runs out and the K-55 erupts out of its jar. But after our hero injures his leg on the slopes and has to rely on others to do the (apologies) legwork, the hunt is nearly lost in the welter of human dramas playing out, from the patrolman’s unexpressed romantic feelings for the snowboarder to Kuribayashi’s struggles as a single dad.
The promised thrills, when they finally arrive, prove less than thrilling, though the off-piste chases through the trees are excitingly filmed, with one scene being cleverly shot through a skier’s head-mounted GoPro. So give props to the film crew and stunt team, as well as to the Nozawa Onsen ski resort, whose powder snow glittered invitingly to this once-keen skier.
My sympathy also goes to Abe as the long-suffering Kuribayashi. A versatile actor who is a favorite of contemporary master Hirokazu Koreeda, Abe mugs and pratfalls gamely, but to little effect. The film’s formulas cover his best efforts in a white blanket of mediocrity. But it did make me want to drag the skis out of the garage.