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Unfair: The Movie
Year: 2007
Ryoko Shinohara
Director: Yoshinori Kobayashi
Producer: Shin Togashi
  Cast: Ryoko Shinohara, Kippei Shina, Hiroki Nariyama, Sadawo Abe, Mari Hamada, Rosa Kato, Ren Osugi, Susumu Terajima, Yosuke Eguchi
The Skinny: Fuji TV's popular Japanese police drama comes to the big screen, but with somewhat mixed results. Although the performances from Unfair: The Movie's ensemble cast and the sheer momentum created by its twisty plot help keep things moving at a decent pace, a terribly pedestrian approach to both action choreography and visual storytelling turns what could have been an excellent extension of the TV series into little more than just another passably entertaining cops n' robbers flick for mass consumption.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Based on a novel by mystery writer Takehiko Hata, the Fuji TV drama Unfair ran eleven episodes and even went on to spawn a television special. Perhaps taking a page from the Bayside Shakedown phenomenon, the series proved popular enough to make the rare leap to the silver screen in the form of the aptly-titled (if a bit unimaginative) Unfair: The Movie. For the film adaptation, Ryoko Shinohara once again takes on the role of Inspector Natsumi Yukihira, your typical no-nonsense, tough-as-nails cop - although in this case, there's a definite feminist twist.
     Described by other characters in the film as a dangerous "loose cannon" known to leave a trail of bodies in her wake, Yukihira is, in effect, the Dirty Harry of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force. Her hardboiled attitude hasn't earned her many friends on the force and certainly won't win her any "Mother of the Year" awards anytime soon either. Raising her seven-year-old daughter, Miho (Mion Mukaichi) without a father has clearly been a challenge for Yukihira, as her dedication to her police work often gets in the way of truly "being there" for her child. Things don't improve any when a car bomb meant for Yukihira explodes, killing a teenaged babysitter and leaving poor little Miho seriously injured in the process.
     As Yukihira attempts to catch the guilty party, Miho is taken to the police hospital for treatment. Not surprisingly, things go from bad to worse when a slew of masked terrorists (including NANA's Hiroki Narimiya) take control of the hospital and hold an important police official hostage. As it so happens, the hospital was designed to be an impregnable fortress, which is bad news for the police and for Yukihira. While Yukihira's boss Saiki (Yosuke Eguchi) and the negotiator assigned to the case (Susumu Terajima) try to resolve the conflict through official channels, Yukihira decides to go rogue and save the day - although not entirely by herself. With a nice assist from her pal Kaoru Mikami (a returning Masaya Kato from the TV series), the two strive to save Miho on their own.
     The stakes are raised even higher, however, when the terrorists are able to procure a vial of anthrax conveniently stored within the hospital. The terrorists plan on releasing this biological weapon onto an unsuspecting Japanese populace if their demands are not met. But the threat becomes real when a certain policewoman's daughter ends up getting exposed to said anthrax, further complicating Yukihira's already difficult search-and-rescue mission. Oh, and did I mention that there's a traitor in the police department? Clearly, the odds are against Yukihira. But true to her lone wolf status, she realizes she can trust no one but herself. But can she really do it alone?
     Considering the film's origins in a television series, one might expect Unfair: The Movie to really take advantage of the medium of cinema to differentiate itself from its prior incarnations. Having previously worked on the television show, Yoshinori Kobayashi once again takes on the directorial reins for the film adaptation. And while I can't comment on the quality of the original series, Unfair: The Movie really feels like a feature-length version of a television show - a bad one at that. The plot is yet another clichéd Die Hard retread with a touch of Hard Boiled thrown in for good measure, but unfortunately, Unfair: The Movie is sorely lacking in the thrill department. The action sequences are hardly cinematic, either pedestrian in terms of execution or just plain terrible to watch. Gunfights and action sequences are often dull and stagy. A standout example of this would be the scene in which Yukihira is punched in a close-up shot that looks about as real as a schoolyard game of cops and robbers. Sadly, this tendency towards artificiality and blandness extends to even the non-action sequences as well.
     The film's saving grace is perhaps its cast, as the sheer number of capable performers salvages the rather clichéd material. Ryoko Shinohara makes for a compelling heroine; she is both beautiful and believably tough, although I really wish her character were given much more to do. Still, she is a likeable presence, as is Yosuke Eguchi as Yukihira's commanding officer, Jin Saiki. Playing perhaps the most interesting character in the entire film, Eguchi is particularly engaging as a surprisingly complex variation on the conventional "righteous police officer" type we've seen in Japanese cinema before. Rounding out the cast, Susumu Terajima gets a few laughs as the officer in charge at the scene, and Ren Osugi is serviceably smarmy as the film's requisite corrupt-as-hell bureaucrat.
     Another appealing aspect of the film is its twisty plot, particularly in terms of its relationship to the overall theme of the franchise. That is to say, there's a reason the series is called "Unfair." In this iteration, the film explores the shades of gray involved in police work, as officers find themselves unfairly handicapped by bureaucracy and corruption. Should the police break the rules to serve the greater good? Or do we all lose something in the process if our proponents of law and order utilize criminal methods to achieve their aims?
     Curiously, in exploring these ambiguities, the film actually ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, which one presumes is meant to suggest that another installment of the franchise is surely in the works. But does the film merit a sequel? Unfair: The Movie has its problems, but there's enough going on in the film to recommend it as an entertaining, if not wholly satisfying diversion. One hopes that if the next iteration of the franchise comes out in theatres, the filmmakers will actually take advantage of what the medium of cinema has to offer. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Pony Canyon
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 6.1 Surround EX / DTS-ES 6.1
Removable English Subtitles
Various Extras

image courtesy of Pony Canyon Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen