While Yoshihiro Nakamura is not a well-known Japanese director – certainly not a name that is internationally well-known, one might be surprised about the diversity of the narratives (.e.g. Fish Story (2009), The Inerasable (2015), The Magnificent Nine (2016), Mumon, the land of stealth (2018)) he has directed over the past years.
By directing The Snow White Murder Case, a narrative based on a book written by Minato Kanae, Nakamura adds one more genre to his oeuvre, the suspense thriller genre (General-note 1).
One day, the burnt and stabbed body of a beautiful young woman is found in Shigure Valley National park: the victim is Miki Noriko (Nanao Airi), a woman who works for cosmetics manufacturer Hinode, famous for its Snow White beauty soap. After Kana Risako (Renbutsu Misako), a rather goofy coworker of Miki, is questioned by the police, she calls her old school friend Akahoshi Yuji (Ayano Go), a low-level part-time TV news journalist. While she ventilates and shares some office gossip pertaining to the murder, Yuji – his online name is Red Star- starts to live-tweet their conversation. Seeing this case as a possible career-maker, he decides to interview Miki’s other co-workers, e.g. the gossipy Mi-chan (Erena Ono) and manager Satoshi Shinoyama (Nobuaki Kaneko), as well.
While conducting these interviews and teasing forthcoming revelations suspicion eventually falls on Shironi Miki (Inoue Mao), a shy and rather plain co-worker, who is known as the last person to have seen Miki alive on the night of the murder – rumours about her jealousy and her involvement in a recent chain of petty thievery further heighten the audience’s suspicion.
Eventually Yuji gets the chance to make a news segment about the case. Because of the popularity of the news segment, Yuji decides to make another one. He decides to delve into Miki’s past and interview some of her former friends, e.g. her university friend Maetani Minori (Tanimura Mitsuki) and Miki’s childhood friend Tanimura Yuko (Kanjiya Shihori).
Despite the narrative’s title, the main concern of the movie is not the solving of the murder case as such, but the exploration of the effects social media can have on a murder investigation. Due to this concern, The Snow White Murder Case is first and foremost a nicely packaged critique of the use of internet as a platform. Yoshihiro Nakamura convincingly reveals how anonymity on the net forms a problem for one’s implication in and one’s responsibility of one’s own ‘speech’. Notwithstanding the lighter tone of the narrative, The Snow White Murder Case shows that signifiers (accusation, gossip, …) exchanged in a community of ‘virtual’ body-less avatars sort serious effects in “reality”, to be understood as the community of speaking subjects as supported by their respective body. The narrative is thus a commentary on and a ‘public’ condemnation of those body-less – maybe even subject-less – avatars and their un-invested use of signifiers, signifiers that nevertheless have an reverberating impact beyond the virtual space. We could even say that the point of the narrative is to show that the signifier, irrespective of the space of usage, ever sorts effects – the use of language is never innocent.
Due to its themes, The snow white murder case also takes a deeper look into the inner-workings of the workplace and shows us, although more incidentally, the way bullying can happen on the (Japanese) workplace. The spectator is offered an implicit look into how the company culture and its hierarchical structure can easily be misused for bullying purposes. For spectators who want a more explicit and dramatic look at bullying, we gladly refer to Forma, a narrative with bullying as its main focus.
The Snow White Murder Case uses an original style, a style interweaving reality and the virtual, to approach its subject. Parts of the movie are two-layered with a layer of twitter feed supplementing the framed action. But the use of twitter feed as an additional ‘layer’ is not entirely without problems. Especially when one is watching the movie with subtitles, the very first conversation between Yuji and Kana Risako is difficult to follow, as the twitter (text) and phone conversation (voice) intermingles in a complex mess of signifiers (Cine-note 1). Yet, despite its problems, the use of text is refreshing and is instrumental in communicating the problematic dimension the narrative wants to introduce.
The narrative succeeds, by way of using different albeit distorted perspectives, in showing that a certain act is ever influenced by one’s own beliefs and one’s own interpretation (Narra-note 1 [minor spoiler]). By focusing on different perspectives by way of framing various interviews – a focus translating in a distinct cinematographical approach (i.e. the switching between Yuji’s framing and the general framing), Nakamura is able to underline the problematic human tendency to corroborate one’s formed beliefs/ideas instead of trying to falsify them. This is furthermore evoked through the addition of the cinematographical distinct news segments within the unfolding of the narrative. This shift in style changes the position of the viewer – instead of following Yuji’s investigations, we become positioned as an ordinary spectator. This position, as contrasted with the other positions of the spectator, enables one to to see how Yuji sifts through the testimonies as to make his segment newsworthy.
Although the murderer isn’t revealed until the end of the narrative, the spectator, through the blossoming structure of different perspectives on the suspect, does not fail to develop a sympathy for ‘the suspect’. One reason for this growth of sympathy follows from the fact, as any person who watches a lot of crime drama or movies knows, that the obvious way of presenting Kana Risako as the culprit, implies the real possibility of her innocence, even if some doubt keeps lingering.
The Snow White Murder Case is an entertaining movie, providing a fresh but critical view on modern day media. Its approach is refreshing because the media as such influences the cinematography and the style of the narrative – but alas not without any problems. As the murder case is not the main concern, The Snow White Murder case is not a traditional suspense crime movie, but a narrative about the influence of modern media on a murder investigation. And although The Snow White Murder Case is a more lighthearted narrative by nature, Yoshihiro Nakamura nevertheless touchingly points out, by showing the ravage online messaging can have, the inherent dangers of the world wide web.
General-Note 1: Several other stories of Minato Kanae made the transition to the big and small screen. The movie Kokuhaku (Confessions) (2010) was based on her debut mystery novel of the same name, which released in 2008. Her novel shukozai (penance) was adapted for television in 2012.
Narra-Note 1: The movie also underlines the possible consequences one’s motivation – Yuji seeing this case as a possible career-maker- could have. Sometimes the desire for exclusive scoops is stronger than the tendency to approach sources carefully.
Cine-Note 1: Another way in which modern media is used in the structure of the narrative, is the addition of two news segments.