Ninagawa (Yamazaki Tsutomu), a grandfather in his waning years, puts a one billion yen (about $9.75 million) bounty on Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara), the man that killed his 7-year-old granddaughter three months earlier. The bounty causes a frenzy among the citizens of Japan and even members of the police force. Attempting to save himself (I guess), Kiyomaru turns himself in to gain police protection, and as bad movie tropes would have it, he must be transported to Tokyo for sentencing. Of course he must!
"Shield of Straw" was directed by Takashi Miike. This film has not yet been rated by the MPAA. The running time is . This film does not yet have a domestic distributor.
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Miike's dramatic go-to is the film's central figure of honor, Mekari Kazuki (Osawa Takao), a police officer who lost his wife to a drunk driver and can understand Ninagawa's quest for revenge. Mekari, however, lives by a code to protect people, which even includes a known child killer and rapist. Therefore, Mekari and his partner, Shiraiwa Atsuko (Matsushima Nanako), will accompany Kiyomaru along with a couple of other officers to Tokyo, but, as you'd expect, no one can be trusted.
Shiraiwa is always going on about a promotion and finds several reasons and moments to kill Kiyomaru throughout the film, though she's never up to pulling a trigger. A hot head officer is constantly going on about how they shouldn't protect him, civilians are coming out of the woodwork to get a shot at him, a couple of SWAT officers take a stab at it and there's a mole involved, consistently relaying Kiyomaru's whereabouts to a silly little website Ninagawa has set up tracking every move Kiyomaru and the cops make.
As much as this may sound like a somewhat satisfying, American B-movie actioner as a whole country has essentially turned into assassins -- trust me, it's not. For Miike this should be looked at as an embarrassment. Forget for a second that it brings virtually none of the signature action beats and over the top insanity we've come to appreciate from a Miike film. Let's focus on the awful screenplay, which trumps up one situation after another to extend the running time.
First they decide to transport Kiyomaru by plane. Oops, someone has sabotaged the plane. Next they'll transport him via a police convoy made up of something like 100 police vehicles. Oops, someone driving a truck loaded with nitroglycerin spoils that show (the best part of the film by the way). How about by train? Nope, the decision to ride the rail ends about 90 minutes outside of Tokyo, which is when they decide they'll walk for a bit... Right down the middle of the road! Next they'll confiscate someone's car, but the guy driving just so happens to turn out to be the father of one of Kiyomaru's other victims. And this just goes on and on and on with no end in sight.
The dialogue is stiff and poorly written. Characters are paper thin, even when Miike does his best to try and give them some kind of a back-story. Shiraiwa is so poorly conceived, we're led to believe she's an ambitious and talented officer only to see her make one bad decision after another, and some characters I'm still scratching my head about, wondering who they were and what they were even doing in the movie.
As the film trudges along, the final scene pretty much sums up the entire feature as we watch an old man struggle to walk about 15 yards. It's one of the most torturous 15 yards anyone has walked on film and it comes about five minutes after the film could have ended on a rather intriguing and ambiguous note that could have garnered it far more respect than it deserves. Yet, the final minutes only serve to prove how wildly Miike misfired with a film he felt was saying something and has heart, but is about as empty and poorly conceived as they come.