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Bad Lands - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Bad Lands

Japan 2023

Crime, Drama

Masato Harada

Sakura Ando
Ryosuke Yamada
Katsuhisa Namase
Yasushi Fuchikami
Ryudo Uzaki
Mitsuo Yoshihara
Yoshimi Tendo

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Bad Lands

Bad Lands - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Neri (Sakura Ando) works for Takagi (Katsuhisa Namase), who is a bookkeeper in an organization that specializes in scams. Neri works as a coach, which means that she scouts out potential victims and makes sure that the police are nowhere near when the money is handed over. She has chosen this life because she is on the run from her ex Goya (Yasushi Fuchikami), who is an unscrupulous billionaire and is still looking for her. Eventually, he finds her and has her tailed, while the police are slowly closing in on her and Takagi. Detective Satake (Mitsuo Yoshihara) has a special interest in catching Takagi, as he got away with a previous large-scale scam. In the meantime, Neri asks her boss to give Jo (Ryosuke Yamada) a chance in the organization. He is her brother, just got out of prison, and is looking for work. Jo keeps telling his sister that they could steal Takagi's millions and leave the country. Eventually, Jo gets hired as a killer, but things don't go as smoothly as planned during the job. Because he feels cornered, he plans to rob Takagi. But this triggers a chain of events that gets him and his sister into big trouble...

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Bad Lands - Film Screenshot 4

Review: After his rather impressive "Hell Dogs" Masato Harada returns with a crime thriller which focuses on its characters. This becomes clear right from the start because we spend quite some time accompanying Neri in her everyday life. Even though it's a life that is pretty unusual as she earns her living through scams, at a certain point, you just can't help but wonder when the actual plot will finally get going. The answer for all those who are rather impatient is that it takes more than an hour until the first big crisis occurs and it becomes clear in which direction the movie is going. All this means that even though "Bad Lands" may have a rather fast pacing because all characters are constantly moving, the biggest problem is still that you have to patiently wait for this crime thriller to become seriously gripping. At least you can hang onto the well-written characters until then.

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The fact that the characters are quite three-dimensional is probably the result of "Bad Lands" being based on the novel "Keisou" by Hiroyuki Kurokawa. Neri certainly can't be described as a model citizen and it's really hard to root for her at first because she rips other people off. But the more we learn about her, her messed-up childhood, her time with Goya, and her relationship with Takagi, the more sense her behavior makes, and eventually she can easily function as the hero of the story. Sakura Ando ("Shoplifters") does a truely fine job giving Neri's personality the necessary complexity. Her development, which isn't really one as we simply find out more about who she actually is over time, is the movie's initial driving force. Ryosuke Yamada ("Fullmetal Alchemist - The Final Alchemy") plays the unpredictable, somewhat dumb brother, but he also shows more nuances over time. Surprisingly, some of the supporting characters, such as Mandala, get more time on screen too.

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It's a bit of a pity, though, that we don't get to find out more about Goya and Neri's time with him. Instead, the little collages in Neri's nightmares draw us a rough picture of that time. An innovative choice, but something is still missing, especially since Goya seems to be at least partially important to the story. The storyline of the detective suffers the same fate. Admittedly, the police are on the hunt for the frauds, but for long periods of time the director repeatedly puts various storylines on ice. This even goes so far that we spend a good hour searching for a common thread. At first, we just follow Neri, and we are bombarded with numerous details, such as who planned which scam etc. You often have to ask yourself why this should matter at this point. The lack of structure is actually really frustrating. Until then, the movie's fast pace is only achieved by the fact that all the characters are constantly on their way to some place or another. However, this way of artificially increasing the pacing or suspense is far too obvious to work out.

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All too often, you wonder in which period of time the movie is actually supposed to take place as well. You can hardly see any computers anywhere, but the burner phones - a must for frauds and crooks - probably mean that the story is located somewhere in the early 2000s. However, as a way to smuggle money out of the country, Bitcoin suddenly becomes important for the plot too. It's all quite irritating. At least in the second half you are no longer thrown off track by unnecessary information, instead the movie gets more structure, and previously introduced or at least mentioned characters appear and fill in the gaps in the story. Be that as it may, it's still a big problem that Masato Harada takes so much time at the beginning. I was already on the verge of not giving the movie a chance after half an hour, because there was no common theme or a coherent story to be found. I doubt that this approach was really necessary. With its 147 minutes, "Bad Lands" is also clearly too long, and there would have been enough material that could have been cut without major losses.

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As a crime thriller "Bad Lands" offers everything you could wish for towards the end, though. We get some surprises, even though they don't manage to touch us emotionally as much as they could have, and a satisfying resolution. Other than that, the initial difficulties still resonate later on, and with its running time the story can also get quite tiring at some point. Still, you can also look at it in a positive way and note that the movie also gets quite epic proportions - at least in some places this shines through. The first hour is tiring, but the well-fleshed out, original characters manage to keep you afloat until "Bad Lands" finds its rhythm. The director already had some problems with "Hell Dogs", which offered much more action, but was eventually able to convince with the final product. This time, too, you can well imagine that a "Director's Cut" could eliminate some shortcomings. However, for fans of well-written characters and for those who want a bit more drama instead of crime action, without resorting to sentimentality, "Bad Lands" is undoubtedly worth watching.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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