Thursday, 18 October 2007

Freesia: Icy Tears (2007) - Japan

Director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
Starring: Tetsuji Tamayama, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tsugumi
Running Time: 103mins

‘Freesia: Icy Tears’ (Bullet Over Tears in Hong Kong) is a thriller set sometime in the near future of Japan, where the Edo Period custom of revenge taken upon those who commit crimes has been passed as a government law. It is based on the popular manga series by Jiro Matsumoto, making it the second manga adaption in succession that director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri has helmed. His last feature ‘Green Mind Metal Bats’ also came from comic roots.

The film opens with a little girl and an army officer running through some woods, as aeroplanes fly over-head and a tannoy counts down to the dropping of a bomb. The use of hand-held cameras, shaking as they follow the little girl through the woods tells of the impending doom of the situation as she desperately tries to get away from the line of fire. As the count finally drops to zero, an explosion occurs and the area freezes over. We see the little girl trying to help a boy who is engulfed by the ice, begging the army officer, who was knocked to the ground during the explosion, to help her.

Fast forward to the present and we are informed of the ‘Act of Vengeance’, a new government rule that allows those affected by crimes to hire professional killers to kill those responsible. The person slated for execution can hire a bodyguard to protect them during the attack and if they survive, they are free to walk.

We focus on a group of professional killers on a mission to kill a criminal, who it seems has murdered the child and grandchild of a middle-age man, who sits in a car clutching their photo whilst he awaits the outcome of the killing attempt. There are three killers tasked with the job, including one new recruit named Hiroshi Kanou. Although he seems quiet in the build up to the ambush, once they get inside the victims home, Kanou shows deadly accuracy as he kills the bodyguard and the victim’s girlfriend inside the flat and then follows the victim outside to deliver the final bullet to the brain.

Mariko Higuchi, the women responsible for handing out the killing assignments at the Retaliation Agency for whom Kanou is hired, takes a special interest in the case of one man, Sergeant Iwazaki. It turns out that she is the girl that survived the freeze bomb experiment, where twenty-nine of her fellow orphans perished. Iwazaki confessed to the crime, but is disabled and therefore vengeance is not required. His son Toshio Iwazaki was one of two young soldiers who oversaw the freeze bombing and is therefore the one who will be victim to the revenge attack.

Kanou has history with both Toshio Iwazaki and Mariko and after the frenetic opening half of the film, the relationship between these three characters takes precedent in the slower pace of the second half. Kanou, who is emotionally cold through the majority of the film, opens up somewhat as it continues, although not to the point where the viewer emphasizes with his plight. The emotional aspect is better portrayed through Toshio and Mariko, as we learn more about their motivations as the film progresses.

As mentioned, Kanou is very emotionless for the majority of ‘Icy Tears’, with some excellent scenes popping up all through the film to illustrate this. The standout scene comes when Kanou is sat in a restaurant eating, whilst an anti-war parade goes on in the street. When the protesters clash with police, things turn violent, with people being beaten up right outside the restaurant windows. Kanou does not even bat an eyelid during the whole incident, continuing to eat his meal as if oblivious to the action going on around him. There is a comedic element to this scene, which is prevalent throughout, due to various situations, usually involving Kanou and his fellow hired killers.

Kumakiri’s film includes many a homage to 1970s action films, which have clearly been an influence on the director. The aforementioned hand-held camera filming is used a lot, specifically in the gun battle scenes at each of the executions. The music has flair to it, bordering on campness, which is again very symptomatic of films from that era. Also, in the opening scene of the movie, the visual effect of the bomb explosion is terribly unrealistic and almost laughable compared to modern day effects. Whether this was intended as a homage or was just due to a low-budget is anyone’s guess, but it certainly fits the other 70s aspects of the film perfectly.

‘Freesia: Icy Tears’ is a difficult film to review, simply because it is hard to truly relate to any of the characters, especially Kanou, who is the nominated lead throughout. This is not a reflection on the acting, which is universally excellent, but is due to the plot in which the characters are encased. This may be an unfair criticism, as Kanou’s coldness is mainly due to his circumstances, which reveal themselves in the second half of the film. However, this could be enough to put some people off watching ‘Icy Tears’, if they like to able to relate to the characters of a film.

In the end, ‘Icy Tears’ is a decent enough thriller, which packs action and emotion neatly into its running time. It is by no means a masterpiece, but it is a competently produced film that will easily hold your attention from start to finish.

Buy the Japanese DVD (English subtitles) now from Play-Asia.