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So this is Christmas. With Hollywood spectacles in short supply at Japanese cinemas this holiday season, Takafumi Hatano’s “Silent Tokyo” offers a tolerable alternative, like having a KFC bucket in place of a turkey dinner.

It’s a snappy and preposterous thriller that imagines what would happen if a terrorist attack took place in Japan’s capital on Christmas Eve. Though the end result never threatens to surpass the first two “Die Hard” films as the Yuletide movie of choice for action-loving misanthropes, it makes a welcome break from the usual rom-coms.

On Dec. 24 in a coronavirus-free Tokyo, the festive atmosphere is barely disturbed by a non-fatal explosion in a shopping mall. Grizzled detective Shinobu Seta (Hidetoshi Nishijima) surmises that it’s a dry run for something bigger, and sure enough, a video message arrives from the purported bomber, declaring that a deadlier device will go off that evening in the heart of Shibuya.

Silent Tokyo (Sairento Tokyo)
Rating
Run Time 99 min.
Language Japanese
Opens Now Showing

In an unlikely twist, the terrorist seems to be a peacenik, demanding a parley with the country’s bellicose prime minister (Shingo Tsurumi).

As the police get to work, a housewife (Yuriko Ishida) and a TV station employee (Kai Inowaki) find themselves coerced into assisting the bomber. Meanwhile, Koichi Sato stalks around in a leather jacket, acting so obviously like the villain that it’s only natural to assume the real culprit must be someone else.

However, the most dubious behavior of all comes from the merry-makers who decide that a bomb scare is just what they need to spice up their Christmas Eve. As the clock ticks down, not only do the police fail to cordon off the area, but it’s overrun with rubberneckers trying to get a closer look.

Anyone who’s seen the film’s spoiler-filled trailer will already know how this is going to turn out. The ensuing set-piece — shot on a massive reconstruction of Shibuya’s scramble crossing with more than a thousand extras, and supplemented with above-average VFX — is genuinely impressive, though it leaves a nasty aftertaste.

Doubtless inspired by the bedlam seen during the past few Halloween and New Year’s Eve celebrations, Hatano assembles a frenzied mob of YouTubers and thrill-seekers, then gives them a brutal dose of reality, depicted in gratuitous slow motion. If you’ve ever wanted to see a dim-witted selfie taker get their comeuppance, here’s your chance, though you should probably be careful what you wish for.

Most of the fun happens in the run-up to this macabre centerpiece. Like a perplexing number of Japanese movies with blockbuster-sized budgets, “Silent Tokyo” peaks halfway through and then dramatically loses steam.

Its muted climax consists mostly of monologues and flashbacks, and might have had more impact if the characters had been properly fleshed out beforehand. Despite getting top billing, Sato seems utterly bored, while Nishijima could do this kind of thing in his sleep by now.

The film’s source novel, by Takehiko Hata, was originally released under the title “And So This Is Xmas,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” serves as a running motif. It’s surprising to see a film of this ilk make any reference to the rise of militarism in Japan. But while the story’s message of peace is seasonally appropriate, it would have been more convincing if “Silent Tokyo” didn’t revel in the carnage. Talk about having your Christmas cake and eating it too.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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