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The sudden death of Ren Osugi last February robbed Japanese cinema of one of its most dependable actors. That loss is rendered all the more acute by “The Chaplain,” Osugi’s final screen role, and his debut as producer. It’s the kind of serious, intelligent drama that might struggle to get made without an established screen star to lend it clout, and it’s hard not to wonder what might have come next.

The movie is also notable for focusing, with rigor and an almost total lack of sentimentality, on a topic that’s generally kept out of the media spotlight in Japan: the death penalty. Surveys suggest that capital punishment enjoys widespread popular support here, but there’s very little public debate on the subject, and executions are conducted in an almost clandestine fashion.

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