Based on the novel “Koshonin” by Takahisa Igarashi, “The Negotiator” (not to be confused with the anime by the same name) is a TV movie that strays much away from the violence and the absurdness usually associated with Miike’s works. In fact, the Japanese master takes full advantage of a multi-leveled story, full of plot twists, in order to present a thriller that thrives on atmosphere and characters, to the point that it could also be described as a psychological drama. Let us take things from the beginning, though.
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Three unidentified men rob a convenience store and then proceed on raiding a hospital, where they take the patients hostages. Inspector Ishida, a negotiator, is the one who eventually is tasked with handling the case, although it is soon revealed that his wife is one of the hostages. In one of his first actions, he calls for the support of Captain Tono, an experienced colleague, who, however, used to have an extramarital affair with, which ended quite badly for both of them. As the two of them try to use every trick in the book in order to save the hostages (which is, according to theory, the primary objective of any negotiator), another colleague, Lt Ado, tries to find the motives behind the criminals’ actions, and particularly the connection with the convenience store robbery. As the story unfolds, a number of secrets come to the fore, and the shuttering twists follow one another.
Takashi Miike implements the “happening-now news” style in his presentation, with the scene, the settings and the persons of interest changing very rapidly, in a tactic we recently saw on “Godzilla Resurgence“. This approach is quite difficult to be implemented and puts much pressure on the editing aspect of the film. Fortunately, the work done on the specific department is quite elaborate on “The Negotiator” and along with Miike’s excellent direction results in a narrative that is more than captivating.
The multi-level aspect derives from the personal relations, and particularly the concept of a man whose wife is held a hostage in the hospital calling his ex-lover in order to help with the case. This series of events may sound like a soap-opera at the beginning, but, through the way Miike presents them and the way the story unfolds, ends up as anything but. The personal search of Lt Ado adds another level to the story, which eventually functions as one of the catalysts. Evidently, the story may reach a little too far, after a fashion, but I felt, that even this hyperbole, actually intensifies the overall aesthetics of the film.
On another aspect, the story also poses the dilemma between duty and personal wishes, which, as the whole of the story, ends up as something completely different.
The cinematography of the film is excellent, with Miike using a muted color palette that suits a story that unfolds mostly during the night and in settings with little light, quite nicely. However, the most exceptional aspect is the framing, with the camera portraying a number of scenes that present both the actual situation and the underlying psychology, exceptionally.
Hiroshi Mikami as Shuhei Ishida and and Mayu Tsuruta as Maiko Tono present their characters convincingly, although in this case, there is not much room for the characters to shine, since the story is the definite protagonist. In these settings though, they function quite well. Shiro Sano is also good as Lt Ando, a straightforward cop and in a way, the exact opposite of the two protagonists.
For its great, even if it goes a bit overboard, story, impressive cinematography, and even as a rare exercise in restraint for Miike, “The Negotiator” definitely deserves a watch.