Bringing together one of the most cult directors (Miike), one of the most popular crime novelists (Keigo Higashino, whose works have been adapted more than 20 times) and a great cast (Sho Sakurai, Suzu Hirose, Lily Franky etc) seems like a recipe for an inevitable success. How this film managed to be so mediocre, remains a mystery for me. Let us take things from the beginning though.
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Higashino, in one of his most surrealistic (even sci-fi one could say) works, bases its story on the concept of the Laplace Demon, a creature that knows the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe, and thus, can predict everything that will happen in the near future. The film and the actual story, however, begin much differently, through a case of the murder of two people being poisoned to death by hydrogen sulfide at hot springs located in different regions. The police is perplexed and ask Shusuke Aoe, a geochemist college professor, to help, but neither he can find an answer to the enigma. Soon, a rather noisy detective named Yuji Nakaoka also starts investigating, while the presence of a mysterious girl, who seems to want to help Aoe, sheds even more mystery in the case. In fact, the more the professor and the detective investigate, the shadier the case becomes, particularly when a disappeared filmmaker, his son, and a doctor who seems to deal with some kind of eugenics enter the story.
For starters, I have to say that the particularly novel seems one of the weakest Higashino has ever written as a general concept, although Hiroyuki Yatsu’s adaptation did not fare better either. In that fashion, the film seems to start a number of different but very interesting concept (the murder, the extreme father-children relationships, the professor-policeman “clash”, the slightly supernatural concept of the Laplace Witch), none of which, however, is explored or developed fully, resulting in a movie that seems more like a collage of different ideas than a compact one.
Of course, Miike holds the biggest share of this non-fulfillment, with his direction failing to capitalize on any of the different, but intermingling arcs, resulting in a narrative that seems to progress just for the sake of it, since the actions of the characters have very little impact. Of course, part of it could be attributed to the fact that there seems to be material here for a whole series and Miike had to condense all these ideas in just 115 minutes, but even this does not provide an adequate excuse.
In this setting, the impressive cast remains “unexploited” with their presence serving the overall impression rather than actual substance, with the impressive face of Suzu Hirose, the coolness of Lily Franky and the undeniable beauty of Tao Okamoto being the most evident testaments to the fact. The one who suffers the most from the narrative, however, is Sho Sakurai as Professor Shushuke, who ends up as a caricature whose purpose is to be funny and interesting at the same time, but does not succeed in either. Sota Fukushi’s part seems one of the most interesting, but his arc is not explored particularly, in another element that faults the movie.
The production values on the other hand, are on a very high level. Nobuyasu Kita’s cinematography captures the various settings and particularly the ones in the snow and the lab exquisitely, through a cold and detached visage that serves the story in the most fitting fashion. Kenji Yamashita’s editing connects the various arcs in a way that provides an interesting rhythm for the film, but his work also suffers from the narrative.
“Laplace’s Witch” is not one of the worst movies Miike has every directed, but for me it is something even worse: mediocre.