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DVD Review: ‘Crime or Punishment?!?’

★★★☆☆

You’d be forgiven for interpreting the title of Keralino Sandorovich’s latest film, Crime or Punishment?!? (2011) as a mistranslated contemporary adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel about the moral consequences of murder on the human soul. However, whilst Sandorovich’s film is an archetypal example of the quirky comedic output we’ve grown to expect from Japan, it does touch on some interesting themes of guilt, ill-advised infatuation and judicial justice – all told through an abundance of jokes based on bodily fluids and sexual desire.

Ayame (Riko Narumi) is an unsuccessful glamour model, living in the imposing shadow of her former best friend and rival cover girl Momo (Sakura Ando). Ayame gets her big break with a photo-shoot for a well known ‘girly’ magazine, however on its release she’s devastated to discover that her photos have not only been resigned to the back pages but have been printed upside down.

After attempting to steal the magazine from a local newsagent, Ayame is quickly caught. Her punishment is a rather unconventional twist on community service, as she is forced to become police chief for a day. It’s a role she assumes will be purely a PR stunt, however, when the station staff start looking to her for orders she soon realises she’s in deeper than she initially expected – add to this the appearance of her teenage crush, Haruki (Kento Nagayama), a serial killer of women, who’s now a police detective (!?) and Ayame is faced with perhaps the most challenging day of her life.

Crime or Punishment?!?’s fractured narrative takes a while to align itself, resulting in what first appears like little more than an autistic script of needlessly crass and over elaborate set pieces with little or no correlation. Indeed, Sandorovich’s movie feels less like a film but rather an uncontrollable concoction of various generic ingredients of quirky Japanese cinema which, whilst initially seeming totally unappetising, thankfully through either some subtle directing skills, or perhaps just blind luck, all boil over into a deranged by thoroughly enjoyable climax.

Narumi as the film’s introverted protagonist is incredibly affable yet somehow seems uncomfortable taking on such a comedic role. Whilst all around her seem perfectly comfortable to throw caution to the wind and rely upon exaggerated physical performances to convey their lines, Narumi’s restrained and reserved approach seems ill-fitting with Sandorovich’s eccentric direction, yet inadvertently her performance creates the stable foundations which allow the film’s wayward script the opportunity to meander before ultimately returning to reality once finally tiring of such hyperactive excursions.

Crime or Punishment?!? is a clear-cut ‘love it or hate it’ film. Fans of wildly elaborate Japanese cinema (and unnecessary urine-based humour) will no doubt become besotted with it, however those who struggle to translate the intrinsically Eastern humour will find an incoherent and wearisome viewing experience.

Patrick Gamble