Film - Missing

Now available on VOD in the US and Canada, with a Blu-ray release on 6th December, Jon B watched Missing / さがす(Sagasu) ...

Directing morbid cinema is a slippery slope. Sure, some audiences lap up lurid content merely for endurance-testing, but true greats of the medium pride themselves in impactful storytelling, moral poignancy, and social commentary – see Oldboy (2003), Come and See (1983), and Man Bites Dog (1992) for respective examples. Shocking content should prove a narrative point about characters or the world they live in; not to make an audience reel for the sake of it. That’s a quick route to becoming an insipid pornographer.

I mention this because Shinzo Katayama – of Mother (2009) fame – lades Missing with enough graphic and thematic horror to constitute it as a member of the family. What starts as a mystery-yarn of a schoolgirl, Kaede, trying to find her dysfunctional-but-endearing father, Harada, quickly descends into a chilling nightmare of serial murder and personal trauma. It hypnotises us with a scenic tour of Nagoya before exposing the evil in the idyllic locale – not unlike Blue Velvet (1986). However, is there substance behind the gore and gloom? Fortunately, more than a little.

Missing is a beautifully shot, written, and directed endeavour from Katayama. The leisurely first act might be too slow for some, but it lays necessary foundation for a superb second half; an hour that’s equal parts engaging, gruesome, and heart-piercingly sad. Our introduction to Harada is fleeting, but later exposition reveals an intricate character – sympathetic yet despicable – embodied by Jiro Sato in a masterclass performance.

This rhetoric of simple impressions with gradual nuance is similarly applicable to the film’s antagonist, Terumi, an anaemic pervert who preys on the suicidal. A feeble character who thrives in manipulation; he’s easy to dismiss initially, but truly malefic once we know all the facts.

How Harada and Terumi interlock is ultimately the core of the film, expediently told by a satisfying, thinking-man’s screenplay – though second viewings may be required to grasp the subtleties. Unfortunately, the weak link is the first fifty minutes; Kaede lacks depth and, despite gorgeous cinematography, it’s an act that drags longer than it should.

Furthermore, please do not watch the IGN extended trailer. It gives away far too much, and most of my enjoyment came from having no prior knowledge of the film. It’s a quick way to deprive yourself of Missing’s most rewarding elements.

Missing is exceptional, both technically and story-wise. It’s cerebral, too; a meditation on how tragedy attracts malignance and pain leaves us corruptible. Strikingly emotional and explorative in its characters – and, concurrently, their morals – it’s a welcome addition to grim cinema as a blueprint on how to do it.

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Images - Dark Star Pictures
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