Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru (2011)

vt The Detective is in the Bar; vt Phone Call to the Bar
Japan / 126 minutes / color / Toei Dir: Hajime Hashimoto Pr: Yasushi Suto Scr: Yasushi Suto, Ryota Kosawa Story: Bar ni Kakatte Kita Denwa (1996) by Naomi Azuma Cine: Kazunari Tanaka Cast: Yo Oizumi, Ryuhei Matsuda, Koyuki, Toshiyuki Nishida, Masanobu Takashima, Tomorowo Taguchi, Ikuji Nakamura, Yoshiki Arizono, Yutaka Matsushige, Yasukaze Motomiya, Renji Ishibashi, Kazuki Namioka, Keiko Takeshita, Shin’ichi Miyazaki, Mayumi Shintani.

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 0b opener

A young, unorthodox PI (Oizumi), known here only as The Detective, operates out of a basement bar in Sapporo, in the Susukino region of Hokkaido Japan: the Keller Ohata Bar, which seems never to have any customers except himself and his sidekick Takada (Matsuda), a near-narcoleptic university technician for the day job but a crack karate exponent when called for. Serving them is a genteel, smiling barman (Miyazaki).

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 1 Detective on way to see Minami

The Detective (Yo Oizumi) preparing to boldly go.

One night, at a hotel rendezvous with closeted gay journalist Matsuo (Taguchi), for whom he has been retrieving some incriminating photographs, The Detective sets eyes on the businessman Toshio Kirishima (Nishida) and his beautiful, much younger and extremely charming wife Saori (Koyuki), who’ve been hosting a party in the same hotel. As the Kirishimas leave, later that evening, Saori goes back for something forgotten; walking to the car, Toshio sees a young woman being sexually assaulted, wades in against her attackers, and is beaten to death. By all accounts this gallantry was typical of him—he was that rarity: a kind, principled corporate head.

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 2 Saori visits kerbside memorial of Toshio

Saori (Koyuki) visits the kerbside memorial of her murdered husband Toshio.

The Detective barely hears about the murder, being up to his eyes in other cases—notably one for the elderly, quasi-retired gang boss Aida (Matsushige), who has hired him to keep an eye on his secret illegitimate teenage daughter. But one night The Detective gets a phonecall at the bar from a mysterious woman calling herself Kyoko Kondo, who pays him to go visit a lawyer called Minami (Nakamura) and ask him if he knows where Kato was on February 5th. Minami professes ignorance, and the next The Detective knows a group of thugs are using a bulldozer to bury him under a ton of snow. By dint of great good fortune he’s able to dig himself to the surface.

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 6 Takada, awake for once

Takada (Ryuhei Matsuda), awake for once.

Those thugs turn out to be from the Hanaoka Gang, regarded as the lowest of the lowlife yakuza. They base themselves at a supposedly spiritual establishment called the Heavenly Dojo, run by Sayama (Namioka). The leading thug, who murders without compunction and with apparent glee—usually asking his victims first if they’ve yet started to see the “movie” of their lives flash past their eyes—is none other than Kato (Takashima).

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 3 Sayema makes his views clearSayama (Kazuki Namioka) makes his views clear.

By now The Detective, helped by Takada and Aida, is beginning to put together more pieces of the puzzle. Kyoko Kondo was a young woman who, a couple of years ago, was the last tenant to resist eviction when the owners of the Palace Paradise wanted to demolish it for redevelopment. She died in an arson attack, the arsonist himself soon afterwards being found murdered. A little further detection reveals that she was the illegitimate daughter of Toshio Kirishima . . . and that the latter’s murder took place on February 5th. When The Detective discovers that Saori is planning to marry Kyosuke Iwabuchi (Ishibashi), son and heir to the head of Milky Way Enterprises, Mitsugu Iwabuchi (Motomiya), the company involved in the redevelopment of the Palace Paradise, it becomes obvious to The Detective that Saori is an ultimate femme fatale who has ruthlessly, for personal gain, had her husband and his daughter wiped out. When he challenges her on this—in perhaps the movie’s most powerfully dramatic scene—she observes that without proof there’s nothing he can do . . .

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 4 By arrangement Kato waves a pinku magazineAt one stage the plot requires that the sociopathic thug Kato (Masanobu Takashima) brandish a pinku magazine in a crowded place. No one told him he was supposed to look as if he was enjoying it.

Besides, as he and we discover in the closing stages of the movie—and in a wonderful piece of volte face plotting—his accusation couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 5 Kato meets his demise
It’s not so long afterwards that Kato (Masanobu Takashima) has other things to worry about.

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru is an extraordinary hodgepodge of influences and styles. As will be evident, in terms of its setup and plotting it’s firmly rooted in noir/neonoir; some of its cinematography reflects this. Yet much of it is also done as a comedy thriller, the emphasis being on the comedy. There are James Bondish action sequences, martial-arts incursions, the occasional splosh of romance (for The Detective falls head-over-heels for Saori), and more. The collisions of some of these styles—sickening violence running head-on into slapstick jokes—should be jarring, and worse than that, but bizarrely it all somehow works. It worked in the box office too, generating a sequel, Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru 2: Susukino Daikosaten (2013; vt Phonecall to the Bar II), which I haven’t seen. The original movie was nominated for a string of Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Oizumi).

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 7 Detective confronts Saori with her (supposed) evils

The Detective (Yo Oizumi) confronts Saori (Koyuki) with her (supposed) evils.

The novel from which this movie takes its title, Tantei wa Bar ni Iru, was the first in Naomi Azuma’s series—now some twenty strong—collectively called the Susukino Tantei series. The story is, though, in fact based on the second in the series. So far as I can establish, none of the series has been translated into English, alas.

Tantei Wa Bar ni Iru - 0a opener

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On Amazon.com: Japanese Movie – Tantei Wa Bar Ni Iru (Phone Call To The Bar) Bonus Pack (3DVDS) [Japan DVD] ASBY-4987 (For some reason Amazon insists I link to the expensive 3-disk version. Click the link, then click from there to the 1-disk version. I assume the 3-disk version has interviews with everyone’s mum and all those other delicious extras that no one can do without, including popcorn.)

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