Just like buses, I don’t publish a new review for 8 days, and then you get two at the same time. Turns out I was a wee bit more busy upon my return to work than I guessed (plus that jet lag really killed me). However, that doesn’t mean I have not been watching things, and that list of films to review is getting frighteningly long. However, this movie was always going to get bumped up the list once I managed to find myself a copy with workable subtitles. Takashi Miike is a Director of whom I have somewhat fallen out of love with recently – his more recent works have been maybe more restrained than some of the imaginative chaos he would regularly put on screen 5-7 years ago, and it has been a while since I was either excited or blown away by any of his output. Not only that, but this is the lowest form of movie – the Video Game adaptation. Now Superhero movies are able to be recreated for the big screen, this is one genre which as far as I can recall is uniformly horrible. But the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games are not your usual fare, so could it possibly be one that actually works?
“Ace Attorney” starts off by introducing us to Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya), a neophyte Attorney, who is defending his best friend Larry Butz (Akiyoshi Nakao), against a charge of murder. The film is set in a somewhat skewed modern day Japan, where the sheer backlog of cases has meant that the implementation of the legal system has changed. Now all cases are presided over by a Judge alone, and the two Attorney’s take part in an almost gladiatorial style of legal combat, with accusations and objections and evidence literally thrown at each other by hi-tech screens. Time is also of prime importance, as no case can take more than 3 days! Wright successfully defends his friend, but his joy is short lived, when his boss Mia Fey (Rei Dan) is found murdered that night. The accused is her sister Maya (Mirei Kiritani), whom Wright attempts to defend in Court, up against his old school friend Mile Edgeworth (Takumi Saito), a highly successful Lawyer. Whilst he again succeeds, there is no time for celebration as another murder occurs, and now Miles is the accused. Worse still, is that the Prosecutor Manfred Von Karma (Ryo Ishibashi) is unbeaten for 40 years in trials, and has only ever taken one week off in his career! Can Wright defend his old but unwilling colleague successfully? And just what is the link between these murders and case called DL-6 from 15 years ago that involves Mile’s Father, Mia and Maya’s Mother and seems to still be taking lives all these years later?
What Miike has managed to put together is an adaptation of the game series (taking some cases from the whole history of the games, which have fortunately been recently put together for the iPhone version just in time for this movie), and dealt with it in a away which is both fun and accessible for the cult film fan, but also utterly respectful to the source material and therefore appeasing to the game playing audience. He keeps the characters names (and tellingly the Japanese names are kept in the spoken soundtrack, but the Western ones are used in the subtitles), and keeps all their distinctive visual appeal, including some of the craziest hair styles committed to celluloid. He also manages to put together a mystery that is actually rather interesting (although maybe not that difficult to unravel). Most impressively, whilst most of the film is rather camp and hyper-real, on at least one occasion he manages to put together a sequence that is utterly touching and heart breaking.
He manages to drop in a load of references to other cases, like the Silver Samurai and a Nessie-like lake monster which add to the fun, but remain entertaining for those who really are not that aware of the source material. He has fun with the trappings of the games (ticker tape is released from the ceiling when a case is won, although with earlier, lesser cases this is just a woman with a bucket), but also adds his own touch to proceedings, via the use of the holographic TV Screens on which evidence is displayed to the court. And he is smart enough to show via a flashback that 15 years ago, technology was not quite so advanced.
All the performances are fun, with maybe only Akiyoshi Nakao’s Larry being a little too much to handle (but utterly in keeping with his digital counterpart. Hiroki Narimiya puts in an earnest and somewhat loveable performance as our lead, although in keeping with the game, he does spend a lot of the time utterly confused, and somewhat on the edge of constipation when attempting to work out what to do next. But he does manage to make the scene where he cross-examines a Cockatoo actually work.
Don’t come here if you are looking for a serious courtroom drama, and be aware at well over 2 hours, there is a fair bit of material that could have been dropped (most of it is the fan-service elements) and it does drag just a touch in the middle section. But, if you are willing to suspend disbelief, and immerse yourself in this little world it is well worth your time. It is to my mind, the best Video Game adaptation ever. Which is probably damning it with feint praise considering the competition, but this one comes Highly Recommended. Make of that what you will.