The Negotiator

May 10, 2005

I went to see a movie last night, the movie was the third in a series of movies about a police station in the landfilled bay area of Tokyo and the conflicts between the central bureacracy of Tokyo Metropolitan Police (that are in charge of "important" investigations) and the local police (that are in charge of acting as gophers for the central bureacracy and for handling other types of local investigations).

The series started as a ten part TV show several years back, I watched them on DVD and actually enjoyed the first couple of episodes as they seemed like a novel approach to the usual cop shows in Japan, where the local police lead all the investigations and solve all problems by beating up suspects, kicking down doors and shooting anti-social looking people. The show focused on a friendship between one of the local cops and one of the "career" cops working in the center. How, the local cop would help the "career" cop rise in the ranks so he could change how the Metropolitan Police worked (ie. took more input from the locals). When Japanese police enter the force, they have to take examinations with each specific prefectural police force. The test that they take (career or non-career) decides where their future in the force will be (that and the university from which they graduated). Recently this has become an issue as more and more police are getting career oriented taking cops off the beat and into the office. So, the basic premise of the series is that the work of the police (the victims and perps) are on the street, while the folks trying to solve the case are not the police that know the streets but work in offices.

Of course, this whole angle go played out too long (through the TV series, a number of made for TV specials, and now the three movies), but that might just be a statement about how nothing has really changed with Japanese police despite the ever decreasing prosecution rates (increasing number of unsolved crimes), stories of police apathy (a few stalking cases leading to murder after the police) and of course various incidents involving cops. What the series really needed to hang onto was some good storylines or at least somewhat plausible and interesting scripts, unfortunately they have been coming up short in this stories since half way through the initial series.

The first two movies I saw were confused, drawn out, rehashed storylines of turf wars between local cops and the metropolitan cops with one half not seeing the trees because of the forest and the other half not seeing the forest because of the trees (though the series always supports the side of the local cops) while they try to solve a kidnapping or a murder or some other serious crime. The local cops know the locale better than the metropolitan cops and try to feed the intel to the center, but the center would rather have them gopher around and worry about their own individual career paths. Meanwhile, the local cops are trying to solve petty local cases (robberies, assaults and etc.) while being drafted out to support the metropolitan cops (driving them around town, getting them lunch, organizing parties, etc.). The cases get solved in the end when the center finally listens to the local cops, an in the process one of the local cops suffers a near fatal wound because of the implausible actions of the metropolitan cops. The central issue of the lack of coordination between local and metropolitan police is never solved, but the endings are happy nonetheless as all the main characters in the movie find a new resolve to change the police from the inside (despite the fact that at this point they have been found to be inconsequential and unimportant). In the process, the corruption of the police are turned into light comedy, the secret SAT (Special Assault Team) of the Japanese police are treated as a running joke, and everything is disguised by big budget camera shots.

I was not planning to see the latest installation, but I got a free ticket and I enjoy good entertainment, this movie was not about the main characters from the previous movies, but one of the sub characters, a "career" cop who had been assigned to the local police station to gain experience, he had now risen in ranks and in the last movie he was Japan's first police negotiator. The metropolitan cop from the center is the negotiator's boss and his main role in the movie is to state that he will take full responsiblity if the negotiator fouls up. The negotiator is brought in to negotiate with a criminal that is taking the Tokyo subway system hostage with bombs. Over the course of the movie the negotiator goes on to completely repudiate any meaning there is to the scientific nature of his job as a negotiator and to expose that even his crack team with their cutting edge technology is useless when they have no idea about what a clue is. The negotiator succeeds in negotiating the subway bomber into doing everything the bomber wants to do.

The ending is frustrating for anyone that cared even a little about the movie at this point, the culprit blows himself up without ever showing his face, his motive or anything interesting about himself. The suicide of the bomber was settled with the simple phrase,"more nuts like that will pop up in the future," I'm gonna assume that this was a statement about the growing number of unsolved crimes out there.

The movie was made even more painful by the colliding trains and etc, especially after the gruesome accident that just occurred in western Japan. It was even more shocking to see the company involved in the crash had been one of the main contributers to bringing the realistic train scenes to the movie. The movie did leave me with something, nausea.

Again, in trying to bring entertainment to the masses, the filmmakers decided that a swiss cheese script with famous Japanese actors (one of them being the Prime Minister's son) and flashy camera angles would do the job. I was just left with a lot of what, why and how questions. The movie as the reset of the series vacillated between trying to make an interesting social commentary, trying to be funny and trying to be cool, I suppose something for everyone, yet I get a feeling that most that were there felt that they left with nothing worth keeping.

The series is a cash cow for the FujiTV network, so they are keeping at it, the next movie in the series is coming out in August, this one is about the metropolitan cop, and has something to do with him being accused of a crime, it looks to have a grittier feel to it, I will probably end up seeing it. Japanese entertainment is great for the masochistic.

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