Shield of Straw is the closest thing to a Hollywood blockbuster that prolific director Takashi Miike has ever made. Working with a large budget, Miike has created something big, bold and at times beautiful. Unfortunately, like many Hollywood films, Shield of Straw also suffers from issues of implausibility and often it simply feels overblown.
When the granddaughter of a wealthy man is brutally assaulted and murdered, he offers one billion yen to anyone who kills the alleged perpetrator, a known serial child molester (Kunihide Kiyomaru). The government puts together a task force to accompany the suspect on his way to have his trial, headed by Kazuki Mekari (Takao Osawa) and Atsuko Shiraiwa (Nanako Matsushima). They find themselves having to defend the suspect from potentially the entire Japanese population who are out to claim the reward…
The story’s premise is certainly incredible and the film should have been a tension-filled roller-coaster. What we get instead is an entertaining but rather generic thriller that features a solid cast. Takao Osawa gives one of his best performances ever as the loyal detective who risks his life to protect someone who truly deserves to be killed. Atsuko Shiraiwa is also fantastic as the tough detective who raises a young son alone after divorcing her husband. Kunihide Kiyomaru, on the other hand, is miscast and rather unconvincing as the complex and mentally disturbed monster that he plays.
Watching Shield of Straw and others of Takashi Miike’s recent commercial films makes me miss the days when he was working with low budgets to create highly original and inventive works. Like all of his films, however, Shield of Straw still manages to be entertaining from start to finish. It just doesn’t quite live up to the (perhaps unrealistically) high expectations that naturally come with any new film by the amazingly talented filmmaker.
Shield of Straw is screening as part of the 17th Japanese Film Festival until December 8. Please check the website for screening times in your city.