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Laplace's Witch
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by Jay Seaver

"Not quite so predictable as its characters might think."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There doesn't seem to be an English translation available for Keigo Higashino's novel "Laplace's Witch" yet, but I'm curious to what extent things maybe weren't changed but were emphasized and diminished between Higashino's book and this movie directed by Takashi Miike. It's easy for genre film fans to explain all its odd turns as coming from that eccentric filmmaker, but it does feel a bit like something shifted in the adaptation.

That there was any sort of murder isn't initially apparent at all; though film producer Yoshihiro Mizuki was found dead of hydrogen sulfide poisoning in a hot spring, and detective Yuji Nakaoka (Hiroshi Tamaki) is keen on his Mikuki's younger wife Chisato (Eriko Sato) as a suspect, geologist Shusuke Aoe (Sho Sakurai) has just been called in as a matter of public safety; H2S is not a good murder weapon, dissipating too quickly in even the slightest wind. But when another man, an unsuccessful actor, is found dead of the same cause at a different resort, Nakaoka discovers a connection: Both worked with filmmaker Saisei Amakasu (Etsushi Toyokawa), who lost his wife and daughter when the latter used the chemical to commit suicide, and nearly son Kento (Sota Fukushi) as well. Meanwhile, teenage runaway Madoka Uhara (Suzu Hirose) keeps running into Aoe, looking for his help. She says she's a witch, and that like Laplace's demon, she can predict the outcome of chaotic systems - like, say, when an abnormally potent cloud of hydrogen sulfide might pass through a spot - and she's not the only one.

Though murder mysteries and amateur sleuths are by and large good things, and in this case a great hook to pull the audience into the movie, they can also be a thing that the film quickly outgrows. Take Aoe, for example - though Sho Sakurai is first-billed in the cast and he's initially the guy at the center of investigating this bizarre phenomenon, he actually doesn't seem very useful for much of the movie, to the point where it seems that Madoka all but says the geologist is around because she needs someone to drive. It's a bit of a shame; Sakurai turns in a boyishly charismatic performance and makes an enjoyable foil for both Suzu Hirose's Madoka and Hiroshi Tamaki's Detective Nakaoka, but he always feels like he could be left behind. The same is true for Nakaoka; Tamaki gives a fine performance as the pushy but witty detective, but the story eventually moves beyond him.

And how could it not; what Madoka and Kento are capable of can be pretty spectacular, although it may not necessarily always be the most useful of superpowers - we know Madoka is special early on because she is able to nudge her phone so that the juice a kid spills doesn't touch it, which is handy, but means she's kind of working with what's available. It still gives a couple of rising young actors entertaining parts to play - Hirose seems to be having a lot of fun being ahead of everyone else and knowing it but occasionally accenting it with a wink, while Sota Fukushi plays Kento as harsher much of the time, since that character's built to lash out. It also means Lily Franky and Etsushi Toyokawa get to chew some scenery as their (respectively) mad-scientist and egomaniac director fathers.

The audience tittered a bit at the elder Amakasu being described as a prolific director who makes movies people often don't get; the filmmakers may not necessarily be playing on Miike's reputation deliberately, but it's not hard to read something into it. Despite the fantastical plot, this may be Miike's most straightforward genre movie since Shield of Straw. He and screenwriter Hiroyuki Yatsu are playful on occasion, but for the most part they play things pretty straightforward, finding bits of wonder and excitement rather than winking too hard at the audience even when dealing with familiar beats they might be tempted to goof on. They do, at least, get to deliver an impressive climax which combines entertaining scenery-chewing with the kind of big, seemingly coincidental mayhem that's been teased but not really done throughout the rest of the film.

Aoe doesn't figure into it that much; the film doesn't really need an Earth scientist at that point, even though he's nice to have around. That's par for the course with "Laplace's Witch" - it's enjoyable and fun at its chosen scale, though it could have gone bigger. Even those who aren't already fans of Miike, Higashino, and the cast will probably enjoy it as fine if not career-highlight work.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32392&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/20/18 12:20:45
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Takashi Miike

Written by
  Hiroyuki Yatsu

Cast
  Sho Sakurai
  Suzu Hirose
  Sta Fukushi
  Hiroshi Tamaki
  Lily Franky
  Etsushi Toyokawa



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