“And while a deeper exploration of Haruka and Shouta’s subjective perspective could have made Sawamura’s quest for redemption even more powerful, Museum does provide the tension, the thrills and the plot twists any great thriller narrative should have.”
If one looks at Keishi Ootomo oeuvre, one concludes that he loves to adapt manga narratives to the silver screen. He already brought the wildly popular manga Rurouni Kenshin to the silver screen – Rurouni Kenshin (2012), Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014), and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014), and has just finished his filmic translation of the manga San gatsu no Lion following the story of a young shogi-player.
With Museum Keishi Ootomo, once again, brings a manga to life on the silver screen – the mange Museum by Ryousuke Tomoe. But instead of diving into the the early Meiji era to paint a part of Rurouni Kenshin narrative, he explores the dark and gritty alleys of Tokyo, following one man’s quest for saving his family. As these narratives are vastly different in themes and atmosphere, we ask ourselves if Ootomo is able to make, as he did with Rurouni Kenshin, this manga-adaptation into an adaptation worth watching.
It is not surprising that Detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri), being the workaholic he is, has driven his neglected wife Haruka (Machiko Ono) and five-year old son, Shouta away. Now living alone like a bachelor, he is solely focused on his work as detective. One day, Sawamura, who works together with Nishino (Shuhei Nomura), a rookie cop, is called to a gruesome murder scene: a tied-up girl, named Akemi Eehara, who has been reduced to shreds by three hungry dogs. Sawamura finds a frog at the murder scene and sometime later a card with the message “Dog Food Penalty” is retrieved.
The second victim of the killer (Satoshi Tsumabuki), who dresses up as a frog, is Yuichi Tsutsumi, a hikikomori whose life is solely focused around kawaii visual novels like Nekopara. The killer extracts his birth-weight of flesh, while leaving as second card with “Pain of Mom Penalty” written on behind. Soon a connection between both murders is made by the Tokyo police and a common denominator between both victims is found: they we’re both jurors on the death penalty “Girl in Resin” case. Sawamura suddenly realizes his wife was also on that jury. And to make matters worse, nobody is able to get in touch with her. Due to his personal involvement, Sawamura is taken off the case, but he is determined to save his family no matter what.
The main character of Museum is the hard-boiled detective Hisashi Sawamura, whose sole focus on detective work caused him to neglect his family. He is presented as an inadequate husband and father, out of touch with the emotional reality of his wife and child – his own emotional reality almost completely reduced to feelings of anger. Nevertheless, Sawamura is a character who slowly comes to understand his own guilt, making his determination to save his family also into a personal quest to find redemption. But while this aspect of character development is present, the underdevelopment of Haruka and Shouta’s subjective perspective and the little attention to Sawamura’s psychological functioning fails to give this quest for redemption the emotional power it could have had.
Instead, the narrative focuses on Sawamura’s anger and the determination that this bursts of anger communicates. While this anger and determination are adequately brought to life by Shun Oguri, the true power of this anger originates from the phenomenal sound-design. The sound approach makes every act of aggression, every expression of negative emotion and every drop of rain resonate powerfully in the narrative space (narra-note 1). Especially in the final act the expressed emotion is given a truly penetrative power, grabbing the spectator by the throat, while driving the tension to unknown heights. The sounds in the narrative space are further supported by Taro Iwashiro’s subtle music, maintaining a certain amount of mysterious tension or enforcing the grittiness of the action when needed. But while the anger is sensible and communicative of Sawamura’s determination, it denies the framing of positive emotions of any noteworthy impact.
A thriller narrative only works well if there is an narrative element with which the spectator can care for – which infuses the narrative with tension, and/or if the cinematography is able to communicate a form of tension as such to the spectator. In the case of Museum both approaches are present, making Sawamura’s chance for redemption exciting and exhilarating. In this respect, the caring-tension does not originates from our caring for the unlikable hard-boiled detective, but from our caring for his determination to safe his family, a determination evoked by his bursts of anger as such. And while Shouta’s and Haruka’s perspective is underdeveloped, the little sympathy the spectator comes to feel for them, through the use of flashbacks, does support the narrative tension (psycho-note 1, psycho-note 2).
Hideo Yamamoto, aided by lighting technician Akira Ono have painted Tokyo in a very dark and gritty way, but this atmosphere of grittiness is supported by every aspect of the cinematographical product (crew-note 1). At the level of the cinematography, the grittiness finds its expression in the use of the shaky camera, which is mixed with more steady framing of movement (Cine-note 1). While at first glance the mix between steady and shaky movement only seem to be motivated by a supposed need for variety, this blend proves to be successful in putting the spectator on the edge of their seat and infusing the various action-scenes with the necessary tension (cine-note 2).
Museum is a very enjoyable narrative, driven by (negative) emotionality, anger and determination. The fluidity of the cinematography takes the spectator along on a two-hour ride that quickly passes by, while the sound-design is communicative of atmosphere and emotionality. And while a deeper exploration of Haruka and Shouta’s subjective perspective could have made Sawamura’s quest for redemption even more powerful, Museum does provide the tension, the thrills and the plot twists any great thriller narrative should have.
Narra-note 1: The fact that anger is the driving force of the narrative is also sensible in the framing externalized thoughts. These thoughts, subtly infused by Sawamura’s anger, underline his determination in a powerful way.
Crew-note 1: Hideo Yamamoto should be know for his excellent work as cinematographer in narratives like Hana-bi (1997), Visitor Q (2001), Audition (2001), and his work as director of photography in Why don’t you play in hell (2013).
Psycho-note 1: The element that the spectator most cares for is Sawamura’s determination to safe his wife, a determination enforced by the sympathy the narrative evokes for Haruka’s position as victim of negligence. Sawamura’s determination, which implies a certain caring for his family, is sensibly felt only because of his bursts of anger.
Psycho-note 2: Dreams in this narrative have a flash-back function. In this respect, they are not reminiscent of real dreams, but are narrative vehicles to explore the sad story of the workaholic Sawamura and his neglected family somewhat.
Cine-note 1: The cinematography is dynamic by nature offering lots of moving shots. While in some cases the camera movement is a free-flowing movement in the narrative space, in other cases the movement follows the movement of characters.
Cine-note 2: There are some rare instances where the shift from steady to shaky shots is used to enforce the impact of aggression. The rare use of slow-motion is applied to attain the same effect.