Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban)

Extremely prolific director Takashi Miike's recent film, Ace Attorney looked to be right up my alley: It's an adaptation of one of my favorite video game series (I own all five games that were released in the U.S.), and it's a quirky and weird Japanese comedy. I'm obsessed with quirky and weird Japanese movies. After having an opportunity to see Ace Attorney, I'm torn. It's a film with many problems, and I don't think most casual viewers will like it. But, with a theatrical audience filled with even bigger fans of the games than me, I found myself laughing with and enjoying it.

The games and movie follow Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya, a rookie defense attorney thrust into the big time when the murder of his mentor, Mia Fey, leads to a much deeper conspiracy. Phoenix, along with Mia's little sister, a spirit medium named Maya (Mirei Kiritani), his no-good buddy Larry Butz (Akiyoshi Nakao), and his rival prosecutor and childhood friend Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saito), must dig deeper to crack the case. The courtroom rules in the world of the game and movie work much differently than in real life. A trial must be completed in three days no matter what. It makes little sense, but it adds a ticking clock element.

Much of the movie's action takes place in the courtroom, as Phoenix stumbles his way through cross examining the often crooked witnesses, trying to pick apart their testimonies and find where they're lying. They also go to the crime scenes to investigate. It's all very faithful to the games (the first one, specifically), and is very silly.

There were some very big laughs in the movie, but I think they were just because of our familiarity with the games. My wife had fun and she's never played them, but she has a similar sensibility to me, so I don't know. Part of the fun is that it's just set in such a ridiculous world.

Between the laughs, however, the movie feels just kind of stagnant and dramatically inert. I think it might be that director Takashi Miike was trying to stay true to a video game that is comprised of a few static shots and lots and lots (and lots) of talking. There's little to no movement in the games, and unfortunately, the cameras play pretty still in the movie too. The characters are dead-on matches to their game counterparts, all the way down to their ludicrous, gravity-defying haircuts. There's just not enough energy to keep this looney world afloat.

The games are much better at building the energy of the courtroom scenes by heightening the intensity of the music and dialogue. If Miike had used more music in that way and made the dialogue banter faster and build to a crescendo as Wright approached the truth, the movie would have felt a lot more alive.

Still, I liked the characters, and the world the movie is set in, and some of the gags were awesome. Ace Attorney could have been a lot more fun, but as it stands, it feels like an honest and sincere attempt to translate the game to the big screen, that just didn't quite work out.

Fans of the game will get something out of it, though. The audience ate it up.


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