Ace Attorney

Gyakuten Saiban
2012 / 135m - Japan
Mystery, Comedy
Ace Attorney poster

It's difficult to imagine a time when Takashi Miike (Nintama Rantaro, Visitor Q, 46 Okunen No Koi, Zebraman 2, Crows Zero 2, Crows Zero, Sun Scarred) won't be making films anymore. Every year Miike has a couple of new projects lined up, so when I say I'll be reviewing his latest know that Miike already has a new film touring the festivals and that there's even a trailer for Miike's upcoming film doing the rounds. For now though, let's focus on Ace Attorney and why you should make sure not to miss it.

screen capture of Ace Attorney

I'm certain Miike keeps a list of genres and sub genres he hasn't tackled yet. With Ace Attorney Miike can finally scratch the courthouse drama off of this list (game adaptation too, though he already covered that earlier with Like A Dragon). It's about the least likely genre for Miike to be working in (that and high school musicals, which incidentally is the genre of Miike's next film), but he makes good use of the series' game background to make the film's events a lot more interesting and entertaining.

Ace Attorney is based on the popular Nintendo DS franchise Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. I've never played the game so it's hard to really distinguish between the game's influence and Miike's own input, but it's safe to say that this isn't your regular courthouse drama. Apparently to keep up with the rising crime rate Japanese courts decided to introduce a new system of justice. Lawyers have three days time to convince the judge of the innocence/guilt of their defendant. Once the judge is convinced he immediately passes judgment and moves to the next case.

Ace Attorney follows the adventures of a young and inexperienced lawyer called Ryuichi Naruhodo. With a little bit of luck he wins his first case against Keisuke, an experienced lawyer and former classmate of Ryuichi. Not soon after this surprising victory Keisuke becomes a defendant himself. Ryuichi, remembering the days they spent in school together, vows to prove the innocence of Keisuke while clearing up a 25-year old case in the process.

screen capture of Ace Attorney

There was a time that Miike's films looked (sometimes more than a little) rushed and rough around the edges. Even though he didn't really slow down his pace, those days are long gone. Ace Attorney looks slick and stylish, with much attention being paid to the camera work and the editing. Even the CG looks surprisingly polished. Surely budget and target audience play a big part in this film's looks, but there is definitely a lot of eye candy present.

The soundtrack is less exciting. Random tension-raising music without any recognizable hooks. It works during the film, but afterwards you'll be hard-pressed to remember anything about the score. Ace Attorney isn't really a film that needs a unique score and it survives perfectly well without it, but as someone who appreciates a defining choice of music I think Miike should've done more with the material at hand.

The acting really fits the bill though. The actors looks as if they materialized right out of a manga, so expect weird hairstyles, over-the-top clothing and some pretty expressive moves. No doubt it won't be to everyone's liking, but if you can't handle even that you probably won't appreciate what Miike did with the rest of the film. Narimiya does a pretty decent job as Ryuichi, but it's Ryo Ishibashi who's the real star here. It's always great to see older actors take on these roles with such great enthusiasm.

screen capture of Ace Attorney

Before I sat down in front of Ace Attorney I feared the length of the film, not in the least because I absolutely hate courthouse dramas. Even classics like Witness For The Prosecution or Judgement At Nuremburg never got me the least bit interested in what they had to offer. Miike turns the boredom upside down, he focuses less on the endless details and subtleties and just goes 100% for entertainment value. The story is a bit more chaotic because of that, but at least there is something happening that goes beyond tireless dialogues between the same two or three people.

Ace Attorney is a Miike blockbuster. The weirdness is kept to a minimum, but the entertainment value is high and the film definitely has its moments of brilliance. Don't expect anything too serious, just sit back and enjoy the overall fluffiness of Miike's latest production. Peaky hairstyles, holographic evidence, confetti and expressive characters ... all you need to revive a boring genre and turn it into something truly amusing.