Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes Review of Shield of Straw.

Cannes explodes with a deranged action thriller from the unstoppable Takashi Miike.

Mon, May 20, 2013, 10:55




Directed by Takashi Miike

Starring Takao Osawa, Nanako Matsushima, Tatsuya Fujiwara

In competition, 125 min

Audience noise is not rare at Cannes. Attendees at press screenings have been booing and cheering at perfectly well-behaved films for half a century. It is, however, unusual to hear the sort of ecstatic whoop that accompanies cacophonous action sequences in films with big guns.

Such a bellow rocked the Lumière theatre about 20 minutes into Takashi Miike’s amusingly mad new road thriller Shield of Straw. This week’s film from the absurdly prolific director – he must have been able to offer Cannes another two options — concerns a maniac recently arrested for the killing of an ailing oligarch’s granddaughter. The old man issues a spectacular bounty on the killer. A billion yen will go the way of anybody who can arrange for the culprit’s annihilation. There are other conditions that seek to impose a façade of legitimacy on the execution, but, suffice to say, the pronouncement soon causes chaos in the nation. In a sort of malign variation on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, every citizen plots to blow away the unrepentant Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara). A group of cops is ordered to escort the perp to Tokyo. They don’t much like the notion of protecting such a vile piece of work, but a sense of honour keeps them committed to the task (for the most part).

There is human drama here. Presented in Miike’s characteristic heightened style (one of several characteristic styles, it should be said), numerous citizens fling themselves at Kiyomaru for various, often justifiable reasons. The film does everything to make the cops’ position untenable and, in doing so, creates an original class of moral quandary. Few action movies have been so dedicated to the cause of liberal democracy and trial by jury. Shield of Straw is the anti-Dirty Harry.

The film is, however, mainly to be recommended for its classy action sequences. All those careering vehicles, huge explosions and man-to-man standoffs probably rule this fine film out of any serious shot at the Palme d’Or. But it was nice of the Cannes gang to invite it to the party.