After the success of Masquerade Hotel (2019) in the cinema, it was a given that the second novel by Keigo Higashino about the same detective, Masquerade Night (2017) would also be adapted. Masayuki Suzuki helms, once again, the director’s seat.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police is puzzled by a recent murder in Nerima. In an apartment, a young pregnant pet stylist was electrocuted with a bomb-like device. Then, four days after discovering the body, the police receive an anonymous fax that informs them that the murderer will attend the countdown party Masquerade Night at Hotel Cortesia Tokyo.
At Hotel Cortesia Tokyo, concierge Yamagishi (Masami Nagasawa) is up for promotion. She might, if she is chosen over her colleague Ujihara (Ken Ishiguro), lead the reopening of the Los Angeles branch of Hotel Cortesia. Yet, before she can even consider this opportunity, she needs to deal with Detective Kosuke Nitta (Takuya Kimura), who once again is send undercover to solve the murder during the countdown party.
Masquerade Night is, just like Masquerade Hotel, a pleasant mystery narrative that offers many enjoyable moments without being able to satisfy the spectator fully. The sequel is, once again, a series of pleasant appetizers (some tension here, a bit of light-heartedness there, a sprinkle of drama on top) rather than a sophisticated meal that delivers a thrilling explosion of taste.
Yet, as the main characters and the flavour of their relationships were introduced in Masquerade Hotel, the narrative’s structure of Masquerade Night is slightly different. The film starts with sketching out the set-up – the murder and the informant, then this frame is slowly with characters who might or might not be relevant to the case at hand, and then these characters are utilized to not simply unravel the plot but to craft unexpected twists, introduce false turns, and deliver unexpected revelations that offers the spectators pieces of various puzzles not yet understood. The narrative structure of Masquerade Night is, as a result, better at engaging the spectator with the murder case. Who is the murderer? Who is the informant? What is the relation between the informant and the murderer? How does the informant know that the murderer will show up at the party?
Just like its predecessor, the film offers an exploration of the inherent conflict that persists between the hotel staff and the police. While the hotel staff are committed to protect the guests’ entertainment and happily allow themselves to be duped by the false face that the subject wears – the immaterial mask, the police has no other desire than to unmask those who are suspicious. In light of their philosophy, the hotel staff need to believe and support the lies of the other while the police, in search for the perpetrator, has to doubt the other and try to undo the deceit, the secrets, and the lies of the other to unearth a possible fragment of a criminal truth they desperately want to uncover.
Once again, the tension between concierge Yamagishi, who is fully identified with her role – her measured acts and formal signifiers represent, in a certain sense, the hotel as such – and Nitta who merely needs to pretend to hide his true intention from the guests takes the centre-stage in the narrative. It is precisely because Yamagishi fully embodies the hotel-fiction that she demands Nitta to be her mirror-image, a pitch-perfect fiction that strictly adheres to the rules, acts, and signifiers to give the interactions with guests their correct flow and their formal structure. The same friction is, in a certain sense, also present between Ujihara, the front-desk clerk, and Nitta. Yet, what Ujihara confronts Nitta with is not so much the inappropriateness of the very signifiers he utilizes, but his lack of awareness that results in improper surges of politeness.
Masquerade Night also reveals – something that was not really touched upon in Masquerade Hotel – that the strict adherence to this formal image by Ujihara and Yamagishi (i.e. their devotion to please the guest’s ego, protect his privacy, and fulfill his (near-impossible) wishes) forms an obstruction to the on-going police investigation. Despite looking the picture of hotel attendant, Nitta is still considered an outsider and a threat to the pristine image of the hotel and its singular guest-oriented mindset. The only way for him and his team to solve the case is by abiding by the rules of the hotel and, if possible, bend some of these rules to craft a path forward in the investigation. The path to solve the case and apprehend the culprit can, in a certain sense, only be created by protecting the pristine image of the hotel, by respecting the guests, and by fulfilling their demand to be satisfied and entertained (Narra-note 1).
In his quest to find the murderer or a clue that will lead to the murderer, front desk worker Nitta suspects anyone who desires to hide something, acts strange, or performs a lie. Atsuya Kusakabe (Ikki Sawamura), who desires a road of roses at the restaurant to enliven his proposal to his girlfriend Taeko Kano (Kaname Ouki), uses a fake name. Midori (Kumiko Aso) who is supposedly married to Shinichiro Nakane is not entirely honest, as the discrepancy between the last-name she writes on the check-in sheet and the name on her credit-card implies. Masaaki Sono (Masanobu Katsumura), for that matter, is balancing his marriage with Machiko Sono (Yoshino Kimura) with a love-affair with Yuri Kaizuka (Saki Takaoka). To spice things up, Yuri undertakes, the evening of the masked party, an attempt to lure Masaaki away from under the nose of his wife at the hotel.
Mikio Urabe (Hanamaru Hakata) makes himself suspicious because he does not want anyone to touch or carry his luggage nor let anyone readily enter his room. What does he try to hide? And Yamada Takashi (-) ruffles the feathers of the police by entering the lobby of the hotel dressed up as a clown. The presence of such masked guests, of course, complicates the work of the police who, behind the scenes, tries to pinpoint any suspicious persons (e.g. persons who use false names) or identify any guests who were near the crime-scene.
The composition of Masquerade Night does not only offer a satisfying mix between static and dynamic moments but also delivers a pleasant rhythm. While Suzuki, by thoughtfully playing with static and dynamic shots, succeeds in delivering visual enticing sequences, Suzuki’s thoughtful use of the cut imbues his composition with an energy that invites the spectator into the narrative. Suzuki’s thoughtful use of the cut, of course, results in the creation of moments with a satisfying fast-pace but also in long takes that have, by their dynamism alone, a highly enjoyable and often meaningful character.
Yet, the visual pleasure of the narrative is not only function energetic dynamism, but also of Suzuki’s pleasant exploitation of geometry – in most cases, the geometry of the hotel’s interiors. Suzuki does not only seek to exploit symmetry within his shot-compositions, but also utilizes the interior to create frames within frames (Cine-note 1).
The music is, just like in Masquerade Hotel, richly utilized to support the flow of the narrative and dictate the emotional flavour of many scenes. Music is either used to infuse tension into certain sequences, highlight the suspicion nature of certain interactions or acts, heighten the emotionality of certain events, or decorate transitions in the narrative. The bombastic musical piece that decorates the opening sequence of Masquerade Night, for instance, is effective in adding some drama to the exposition of the initial set-up of the narrative and preparing the spectator for a narrative full of twists and turns.
What allows Masquerade Night to be such an enjoyable mainstream narrative is the pleasant chemistry between Takuya Kimura and Masami Nagasawa. Their performances do not only pleasantly embody the respective philosophies of their characters, but also explores how, given their differences, a certain respect and understanding can blossom between them.
Masquerade Night is, just like its predecessor, a pleasant and entertaining narrative that is ultimately victim of the demand to be consumable for as many spectators as possible. The interesting mystery, the fluid intertwining of narratives, the engaging dynamic between the two leads please the spectator, but the refusal to delve deeper into the darkness of murdering subject renders the finale unable to fully satisfy the spectator.
Narra-note 1: That the police struggles to abide by the strict ‘rules’ of the hotel is underlined by the conflicts that arise between the police and the hotel-attendants. The police wants nothing other than to search the bags of suspicious guests, investigate rooms without the guest’s permission, and be allowed to force guests who hide behind material masks to show their facebut these demands go radically against the commitment of the hotel staff to protect the guests, their wishes, and their secrets.
As the pristine image of the hotel is sacred, it is not surprising that the concession Fujiki (Ryo Ishibashi) makes – the police can search rooms without the permission of guests – is bound by rules to protect that image – nothing can be touched and a hotel staff needs to be present.
Cine-note 1: Another composition element that heighten the visual pleasure of the narrative is the subtle use of depth-of-field.