Stefan Says So: SP: The Motion Picture

Published on April 2nd, 2011

SP, or Security Police, refers to that branch within the Japanese police force that does executive protection, and is modelled to a certain degree after the US Secret Service.

Even then, we don’t see much of such police units in films, even those from Hollywood, where offhand I can recall In the Line of Fire starring Clint Eastwood, or The Sentinel with Michael Douglas.

Having visited the Tokyo International FIlm Festival the last few years have allowed me to see SP in action up close since they provide close protection for the Japanese Prime Minister, being the VIP of the opening ceremony, and lo and behold, the opening of SP The Motion Picture brought back some memories of the time spent in Tokyo with a large set action piece. Starting off at the classy Roppongi Hills, an SP unit led by Soichiro Ogata (Shinichi Tsutsumi of Suspect X and The Climber’s High fame) successfully fends off a terrorist bomb attack employing the use of an improvised explosive device, and launches into one extended action sequence involving the wildcard of the team Kaoru Inoue (Junichi Okada), who’s blessed with heightened extra sensory abilities almost similar to a pre-cog from Minority Report. Think of it as your tingling Spidey sense that he’s endowed with, from a childhood incident that you’d only know of if you’ve followed the television series.

Yes, this film is the big screen continuation of 11 episodes from Fuji TV, but do not fret if you are clueless about the characters here and their respective motivations, since you’ll be brought up to speed once you’re past the opening action set piece that blends some raw CG with plenty of dizzying foot chases everywhere from streets to the metro, culminating in a close quartered fight on a moving lorry. Then the narrative goes into a boring, slow paced slump which seemed a lot like a bad dose of X-Files type of conspiracy theories with shady politicians such as the ruling party’s Secretary General Kunio Date (Teruyuki Kagawa) heading a rogue team hell bent on taking over the government through some orchestrated chess play kept under wraps from the audience. There’s a diabolical plan brewing, but we aren’t just quite sure of it just yet. And wait, to add to the intrigue, it seemed that Soichiro Ogata is in on this too, spouting cryptic lines, and behaving like an activated Manchurian Candidate.

There are a few positives from this film, starting with ambition. Directed by Takafumi Hatano, it is without a doubt he has his focus on making an impact with bringing the Security Police to the big screen for a whole different audience experience. Then there’s the presence of power character actors with the likes of Teruyuki Kagawa and Shinichi Tsutsumi. Even Junichi Okada pulls his weight as the almost superhero like rookie cop providing that flair for action, and looks good while pulling off the periodically intense moments where his senses go into overdrive when danger is nearby. Action too was very well choreographed, especially the close quartered battles that were realistically executed, and the kinetic energy that flows throughout.

Then there are the negatives from the film that centered on improbable logic and standard operating procedures that stuck out like a sore thumb marring this film since you’ll start to ask a lot of questions. Perhaps I do not understand the exact SOP of the SPs, or maybe for dramatic license to make it a more entertaining action thriller, certain liberties got taken so that the characters can quickly get into the scheme of things, and make them more vulnerable rather than a well oiled, cohesive and impregnable fighting unit. And most of these issues come from the final third of the film where Kaoru Inoue, together with teammates Eri Sasamoto (Yoko Mari), Takahumi Tamamoto (Satoru Matsuo) and Mitsuo Ishida (Yu Kamio) have to safely escort a minister to the Prime Minister’s residence some 3 kilometers away. 16 Blocks, anyone?

Now being on a security detail means meticulous planning, and equipped with some weapons to fend off potential aggressors, and this is where it gets a tad frustrating. Firstly, Inoue is like a bloodhound especially in the opening establishing scene for the uninitiated like myself, but as the film wore on, his senses got blunted and his reaction to his premonitions become slower. You can blame it on fatigue since he had spent the whole day out on high alert protecting Kunio Date, but to spiral his abilities to such lows, made it too convenient. I had initially thought this was the weakest link in the entire film, but after some thought had realized that although the timeline was super compressed, the SP team were in effect being deployed the whole day on high alert and is in need of rest, before being suddenly called in after a long day to spring into action. Ties in nicely to the big conspiracy brewing actually.

Then there’s the tussle between having a lethal and non lethal weapon at one’s disposal, and the decisions made to utilize either. If someone’s charging toward you with a blade and looks set to inflict critical damage, you do not charge forward and engage with your bare hands. It makes little sense, together with the inability to find alternative modes of transportation, or appropriate backups from the force. Some scenes to evoke a sense of excitement also became over the top, but I suppose it’s part of the unreal fun on the filmmaker’s end, and allowing some nicely choreographed fisticuffs to happen and provide some variation to the type of action presented.

This of course requires you to check your inquisitive brain at the door, and to enjoy the film as it is at face value. It has the right ingredients for an action thriller and tried to up the ante with having an adult plot involving corrupt politics and the high level games they play, which in a certain way is pretty much frustrating knowing that this is only half a film, where the plot for Japan domination comes in the sequel which hopefully will make it to our shores.

~A Nutshell Review~

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