Thursday, June 10, 2010


A leak from a secret foreign military facility that stores a deadly chemical agent kills off the inhabitants of an island and forever alters the lives of two boys who survived the said incident. In commemoration of the 80th year of the kamisama of manga, brace yourself  for yet again another disappointing adaptation of a Tezuka Osamu classic---this time in the form of the gekiga-inspired  MW. If you thought that 2009's Astroboy bore little or no resemblance to the essence of the robot boy with the cow lick and go-go boots that you knew and loved as a kid, then brace yourself for another travesty as the people of Amuse Soft Entertainment and Studio Swan bring you a sanitized version of the serialized tale of a cold-blooded killer and his religious confidante.

I must confess that I took one look at the cast of this movie and made up my mind to see it. I was already 30 minutes into watching it when I decided to stop, get hold of a copy of the manga and familiarize myself with the story. There was just something amiss about it and I couldn't shrug off the feeling that I was missing chunks of the narrative, so I had to go and see for myself if there was something to it. Lo and behold, I wasn't imagining things---there really was more to it, sadly, a lot of things didn't make it to the big screen. 

The movie begins in the midst of a cover-up in Okine Mafune Island where nerve gas MW leaked from a secret U.S. military facility and killed a majority of the island's inhabitants instantaneously. To spare itself from a public relations nightmare, the Japanese government, in league with the American government, embarked upon a conspiracy to wipe out any indication of the accident. Within hours, the whole village was torched, and helpless civilians were gunned down and buried in mass graves. Relatives of those massacred were later bribed to occupy positions in high places and the island was slowly re-populated. It's as if the incident never happened and anyone who can attest to the existence of MW and it's dangerous effects were either long gone or over it---all, but for two boys who escaped to the mainland.

Sixteen years later, survivor Yuki Michio (Tamaki Hiroshi) grows up to become a shrewd and successful investment banker who, unbeknownst to most, is suffering from the side effects of the MW gas he inhaled as a child. Calm and collected, he goes about committing heinous crimes against the people who conspired to cover-up the incident in Okine-Mafuno Island under the pretense of seeking justice, all the while indulging his insatiable need to kill. The only person who knows that he's leading a double life is fellow survivor, Garai Yutaro (Yamada Takayuki), who sought solace in the Catholic faith. In him, Yuki confides his evil thoughts and deeds knowing that his childhood friend would dare not betray him, much less break the confessional seal.

Owing Yuki a debt of gratitude for saving his life, Garai becomes an unwilling accomplice to the crimes perpetrated. But Yuki's killing spree doesn't go unnoticed, as an investigative journalist (Ishida Yuriko) begins to piece together the common denominator for the seemingly random series of crimes. Also closing in is a detective (Ishibashi Ryo) who begins to suspect Yuki's involvement in a recent kidnapping case that played out in Thailand. Now, Garai has to make a choice between doing what's right or doing right by his best friend as it turns out that all Yuki ever wanted was to find the MW and take the whole world down with him...

Packaged as an action movie, Director Iwamoto Hitoshi's (Nobuta wo Produce, Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, Jyou no Kyoshitsu) big screen adaptation of the Tezuka classic has its fair share of chase sequences and narrow escapes. MW has all the makings of a decent crime/espionage thriller with bullets flying, a hidden chemical warfare agent, and an ever increasing body count but ironically, none of the intrigue and complexities that made the original material a work of notoriety. Screenwriter Oishi Tetsuya, who also handled the duty of bringing Death Note to the silver screen, devotes too much of the movie's running time establishing Yuki as a criminal mastermind while neglecting to explore his often twisted, and beguiling relationship with Garai. Stripped of any political underpinnings or character exposition, the movie ended up cutting way too many corners in adapting the manga and was particularly careful not to dwell on the darker, more sinister elements of the story. In doing so, viewers who are unfamiliar with the original work remain unaware of how much of a psychopath Yuki is, nor will they even begin to appreciate the significance of Garai's sacrifice.

All I want is you beside me. No more terrible crimes.
In the manga, Yuki and Garai were not just fellow survivors or best friends, they were lovers. They were two people bound together by one traumatic experience; both were haunted by one incident that pretty much changed their lives forever. No two characters could have possibly been more diametrical in both physique and demeanor-- one is a man of the cloth, while the other a sexual predator; one subscribes to rape and murder, while the other believes himself doomed to suffer the fiery fires of hell. Tezuka's Yuki is beautiful, charismatic and irresistible to both men and women. He kills people without remorse and doesn't think twice about eliminating anyone who gets in his way. Garai, on the other hand, is a devout Catholic and a loyal friend. Despite doing his best to sever ties with Yuki, he always finds himself unable to refuse the latter's invitation to share the same bed. It's a dysfunctional relationship that knows no bounds, as a seemingly amoral and unfeeling person like Yuki possessively holds on to Garai and a supposedly just and upright man like Garai protects Yuki from the authorities. It's such a shame that the movie barely hints at this kind of devotion between them.

Most of the scenes that give a passing nod to the manga can be easily overlooked; they don't even make much of an impact. For instance, the part wherein Yuki dons a nun's habit while making a mock confession before Garai could easily be dismissed as pure whimsy, when in fact, it's demonstrative of Yuki's pathological behavior (Yuki supposedly hails from a well-known Kabuki family and is therefore skilled in impersonating women, in particular, his victims). The scene where a worried Garai plainly tells Yuki to stay with him implied the existence of a more intimate relationship, but the writers felt the need to undermine the same by later referring to Garai as Yuki's "favorite toy". These are but a few instances wherein a slight of hand could have been used to make the movie closer to its source material, but intentional or not, things were never really placed in their proper context.

Casting Tamaki Hiroshi as the charming and devilish Yuki next to Yamada Takayuki's somber Garai was an interesting choice. Both possess the physical attributes that make for a startling contrast to the two distinct characters of MW-- one being tall and slim, while the other short and stocky. It's quite unfortunate that Tamaki comes off cold and stiff as the manipulative Yuki when the character was written to be deceptively personable. He plays it straight and smart with hardly any sign of mental imbalance except for his bulging eyes, which is fine, really, except that it's a far cry from the Yuki who's supposed to be a cross between Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Yamada does slightly better by looking sufficiently tormented and morose, but then again, without the right back story, he ends up looking dull and pathetic.

Overall, MW is the Japanese equivalent of your basic Hollywood action movie where plot and character development take a backseat to expensive set pieces, numerous aerial shots, overseas location shoots, and even foreign bit players. The movie starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper as much of the build-up in the beginning is laid to waste as events become too incredible to ignore. It's good enough for movie night but it somehow leaves you with a feeling that you were shortchanged and that there should have been more to it. In this regard, the manga should serve as a pretty good companion piece. 

Photo Credits: Ki Image Gallery AsianMediaWiki/MW
Special thanks goes to the good people of Random Scans and Kickthekitty for their wonderful scanlation work and for providing links to Osamu Tezuka's MW.


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