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Shield of Straw ("Wara no Tate")

North American Premiere
  • Japan
  • 2013
  • 125 mins
  • HD
  • Japanese
  • English (subtitles)
Opening film Fantasia 2013

Official Competition, Cannes Film Festival 2013

The body of a seven-year-old girl, bearing the telltale signs of sexual abuse, is discovered in a sewage duct. The citizenry is revolted, all the more so because the isn’t the first offence by the principal suspect, Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara of BATTLE ROYALE, playing against type amazingly). Amid the sensationalist media storm sweeping across the nation, the little girl’s grandfather, a rich businessman in the final days of his life, takes to the airwaves and promises a billion yen for the head of Kiyomaru. The suspect realizes the seriousness of his situation when the first bounty killer tries to take his life, and so Kiyomaru turns himself in to the cops in Fukuoka, in southern Japan. A special police unit, led by Mekari (Takao Osawa, GOEMON) and Shiraiwa (Nanako Matsushima, the star of RINGU), is dispatched to escort Kiyomaru to Tokyo where he is to stand trial, but the route is long and lined with dangers. Their colleagues dropping like flies and moral dilemmas over this surreal assignment gnawing away at them, Mekari, who lost his wife to a killer, and Shiwaira, a single mother, see their task complicated by a new detail about the reward. You don't even have to kill Kiyomaru to assure your family’s financial comfort. Trying is enough...

Selected for official competition at the Cannes this year, SHIELD OF STRAW is a blast of intense thrills, filled to the brim with chases, explosions, gunfire and all manner of murder attempts. Takashi Miike, whose challenging LESSON OF THE EVIL is also on the Fantasia schedule this year, steers this gloriously over-the-top thriller with a master’s hand and a peerless sense of rhythm, alternating action and smouldering dramatic tension, drawing the audience in heart and soul to the heroes’ dilemma — would you risk your life to protect a monster? Miike’s story maintains an ambiguity around these moral challenges, integrating the current economic crisis through which Japan is struggling with equal incisiveness and subtlety, as the entire country becomes a potential deathtrap. Though SHIELD OF STRAW hadd a mixed reception in the lofty confines of Cannes, it finds its perfect roost on the Fantasia screen. Race for the ticket line — the threat of a sold-out screening is coming at you from all sides!

— Nicolas Archambault