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Prior Convictions - Movie Poster
Original Title:

Japan 2022

Thriller, Drama

Yoshiyuki Kishi

Kasumi Arimura
Go Morita
Ryuya Wakaba
Hayato Isomura
Shizuka Ishibashi
Lily Franky
Makita Sports
Tae Kimura
Shohei Uno

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Prior Convictions

Prior Convictions - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Kayo Agawa (Kasumi Arimura) works in a convenience store, but her true passion lies in volunteering as a probation officer. One of the people she is responsible for is Makoto Kudo (Go Morita), who was imprisoned for murder. He is a very quiet man but does such a good job at a workshop that his boss wants to give him a job as soon as he is done with his probation. Kayo is happy that everything is going well for him, but then some things happen in Kudo's life that could put him back on the wrong track. Recently, somebody took hold of a police officer's gun and shot him with it. Shortly afterwards, a social service worker was executed with a headshot in the middle of the street. Shinji Takimoto (Hayato Isomura) and his superior work on the case and they soon find out that the victims were not chosen at random. Apparently, this is part of a vendetta. In the meantime, Kudo is visited by his brother Minoru (Ryuya Wakaba), who is clearly not doing well. Since their mother was killed by their stepfather and the two were physically abused and drugged in an orphanage, Minoru has not been able to live without drugs. His mentally critical state raises the question of whether he might actually be the one who is on a revenge campaign. But if that was true, what should Kudo do?

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Prior Convictions - Film Screenshot 4

Review: Is it possible for a convicted criminal to become part of society again, especially if he is a murderer? As a hybrid between drama and thriller, "Prior Convictions" addresses this question, although the rather unfrightening protagonist doesn't make you wonder whether Kudo is really a murderer or whether he was just wrongly convicted. But the story does not lead us on a merry chase here, which would have been the easy way out. We soon find out that Kudo actually did kill someone. Of course, the circumstances were somewhat understandable, but there is no doubt that it was murder. In the meantime, there are more sudden murders and even though it is quite clear that Kudo himself is not responsible for them, he is dragged further and further into the entanglements until we have to wonder whether he will ever get the chance to lead a normal life again.

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It is not until later in the story that we get to know more about Kudo's background, even though some facts about his childhood are already touched upon beforehand. His tragic life made him into someone who was predestined to become a criminal one day. If you are constantly pushed to the limit of what is bearable, you just have to eventually crack. While Kudo is the quiet, introverted guy who simply lives because you have to and has not found a perspective for himself yet, Kayo is the complete opposite. Her self-sacrificing helpfulness and her positive thinking are a ray of hope for the people she takes care of. However, behind her need to help others, there is a traumatic experience that she is not ready to talk about at first. All of this already builds up a certain level of suspense, but as mentioned before, there are also a few murders that keep the story going on another level.

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So, the movie may partly be a psychological thriller, but it is also a drama about people who no longer have a place in society. In order to adequately convey the various aspects that go along with that, you need some good performances, and you get those from Kasumi Arimura ("Call Me Chihiro") and Go Morito as the leads as well as from a few supporting roles, at which Lily Franky ("Shoplifters") as the stepfather specifically stands out. Nonetheless, the movie sometimes also seems a bit packed, because the stepfather who murdered Kudo's mother, but somehow managed to rebuild a life for himself, still carries a lot of guilt and pain, and the complex feelings reflected in his face would have deserved more room. Next to that, characters like the detective or Kayo's friend, unfortunately, fade into the background.

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Because of its serious and dark subject matter "Prior Convictions" may not seem like it, but the flick is actually based on the manga "Zenkamono" by Masahito Kagawa and Toji Tsukishima, even though a new story was written for the movie. With its gloomy images, the movie stylistically looks like both a drama and suspenseful thriller, which tries to keep the pace up with a dark color scheme and numerous twists. Most of the time, this symbiosis works pretty well. Good and evil are not separated by a clear line in "Prior Convictions" either, and moving through the gray areas and dealing with the moral compass of each individual can be pretty fascinating. Sadly, the ending goes in a somewhat exaggerated direction, in which quite a good amount of tears are shed. That doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the flick's style.

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Later on in the movie, Kayo's storyline runs parallel to the others, or rather takes place in the background. Here, we get some subtle complex feelings too, for instance an old friend still reproaches her after many years, even though he leaves things unsaid. Unfortunately, the many subplots, which are all part of the bigger picture, often seem arranged a bit chaotically. Structurally, the movie would have deserved a more compact narrative style, as you often get the impression that the story's various branches try to reach into every direction. At the end of the day, "Prior Convictions" would have needed more fine-tuning, and you feel less involved in the story than you would have expected. From an objective point of view, though, the movie is a good symbiosis of drama and thriller while offering good leading actors, and it doesn't shy away from a more complex character drawing, even though we don't get to see every aspect of it.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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