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Strawberry Night - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Sutoroberi Naito

Japan 2013

Crime, Thriller, Drama

Yuichi Sato

Yuko Takeuchi
Takao Osawa
Hidetoshi Nishijima
Keisuke Koide
Takashi Ukaji
Katsuhisa Namase
Ryuhei Maruyama
Shota Sometani
Kenichi Endo
Ken Kaneko
Ikkei Watanabe
Masahiro Takashima
Tomokazu Miura

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Strawberry Night

Strawberry Night - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Reiko Himekawa (Yuko Takeuchi) investigates a murder that points at a serial killer being at work. Since the former victims all belonged to certain groups of the yakuza Himekawa's superiors are very soon convinced that there is an internal power stuggle within the organization. However, Himekawa doesn't believe that. She then gets an anonymous call. Kento Yanai is said to be the killer. When she does some research on the name she is ordered by her superiors not to investigate in this direction. Himekawa keeps at it, though, and finds out that the police wanted to put Kento Yanai's father in prison for the murder of his daughter even though he had an alibi, which is why he killed himself. If this would get out to the public, the reputation of the police force would be severely damaged. Apparently, Kento has now taken revenge into his own hands and killed his sister's true murders. Himekawa can't find him though and by chance runs into Isao Makita (Takao Osawa), who is an important member within the yakuza. Isao seems to be interested in finding out what happened to Kento as well and so he helps Himekawa in her investigation.

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Strawberry Night - Film Screenshot 4

Review: It doesn't take long for us to realize that "Strawberry Night" is a detective thriller which shows a complex web of relationships between its characters. It's just that if you should only watch this part of the story you will be missing some background information that creates the necessary groundwork for us to really warm up to the characters. The reason for that being that the adaptation of Tetsuya Honda's novel is the continuation of a tv series which most important characters all get a spot in this movie as well. It may be easily possible to watch the film as a crime thriller standing on its own two feet, but then many subtle aspects will be lost on you. How many of those aspects we are talking about becomes quite clear when you haven't seen the tv series. You are constantly merely guessing the depth of the characters and their motives, which then again also makes the story itself rather unsatisfactory since it is mainly build on presumably well-elaborated investigators.

Strawberry Night - Film Screenshot 5

"Strawberry Night" is packed with dramatic moments and the more we realize that they can't really move us if you aren't in the know of the individual persons' background stories the more upset you get. Accordingly, it is actually recommended to watch the tv series beforehand if you don't want to wrong the movie. Since the writer of these lines didn't watch the series, though, this review might in fact turn out to be a bit unjust, but it can't be helped. After all, you can only review what you have seen and since the movie is marketed as an independent work of fiction it is, on closer inspection, legitimate to review "Strawberry Night" just like any other crime movie. However, the story itself is in no need of any background knowledge. Furthermore, the plot is very ambitiously written with muliple layers and subplots which can't gear into each other perfectly, though.

Strawberry Night - Film Screenshot 6

Apart from a classical detective story, which outlines a mysterious murder, there is not only a power struggle within the yakuza woven into the mix, but also a cover up attempt of the police that is supposed to give the whole story a political touch. This turns out to be a bit too much in the end, since the different parts aren't connected well. In its core "Strawberry Night" remains a thriller, although it also features serious dramatic elements as it oftentimes puts its focus on the characters. Still, not all individuals manage to arouse our interest. On the one hand, there are just too many of them and on the other hand the movie actually never gives any of them the necessary screen-time. This also includes Kikuta. Strangely enough, Himekawa investigates on her own and leaves her colleagues out. Consequently, you have to rely on knowledge you got from the tv series if you want to make any sense of them.

Strawberry Night - Film Screenshot 7

The way the investigators are portrayed in the movie they somehow all remain mysterious. They have some sort of personality, but what kind of exactly remains for us to guess. And this even includes Himekawa! Her trauma and her very convoluted personality is extremely interesting, but we lack important pieces of the puzzle in order to do something with the information we get. Yuko Takeuchi ("Be With You") also delivers a double-edged portrayal. She has many pecularities and there is a deep mental scar she suffers from, but there are also scenes in which she is clearly overacting, as if playing in a tv show. Somehow you also can't fight the impression that Yuko Takeuchi is cast in a role that is completely contrary to her actual personality. Thus, the tough woman who stands her ground in a society dominated by men seems a bit too rough around the edges.

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Strawberry Night - Film Screenshot 10

It's nice, though, that certain gender roles have been swapped here. Himakawa is the strong police officer who succumbs to the charms of a gangster. Takao Osawa ("Shield of Straw", "Goemon") takes on the role of the femme fatale and this is so obvious at times that it makes you smile. Yet, he manages to deliver by far the best perfomance in the movie and succeeds in building up a complex character whose inevitable romantic relationship with the female investigator doesn't seem out of place. The investigation itself proves to be nothing more than genre-typical stuff, but there are enough twists for us not to be bored. If there just weren't the fact that the flick is too long and struggles with a soundtrack that is too dominant. This ultimately makes "Strawberry Night" nothing more than a solid crime thriller with drama elements which the movie can only benefit from if you have seen the tv series as well.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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