A Japanese policier with an unusually mystical bent, "MARKS" just misses, thanks to subtext overreach and a too-convoluted plot. Helmer Yoichi Sai, who explored his own Japanese-Korean roots in the taxi driver dramatic comedy "All Under the Moon," here tackles "difference" within an overwrought, if frequently engaging, cops-and-killers format. Serious trimming and plot clarification are called for if this one is to move beyond fest status outside its home turf.

A Japanese policier with an unusually mystical bent, “MARKS” just misses, thanks to subtext overreach and a too-convoluted plot. Helmer Yoichi Sai, who explored his own Japanese-Korean roots in the taxi driver dramatic comedy “All Under the Moon,” here tackles “difference” within an overwrought, if frequently engaging, cops-and-killers format. Serious trimming and plot clarification are called for if this one is to move beyond fest status outside its home turf.

Pic’s main plus is likable Kiichi Nakai, who toplines as Aida, a gangly, tough-luck detective burdened with an unusually baffling case. When corpses of a small-time hood and a ministry of justice bureaucrat — each with a curious hole carved into his skull — turn up in far-flung Tokyo neighborhoods, rival homicide squads are assigned, and Aida bears the literal brunt of resentment from both teams.

Slowly, this once-idealistic inspector starts picking up clues, but he has little idea how many threads are involved. Auds will be likewise confused, even with flashbacks showing a gay-bashing murder in a mental institute, street battles between ’60s radicals and a family suicide on a remote mountain road. Eventually, these threads connect through a strangely bent youngster (intense Masato Hagiwara) who survived the suicide and the bashing, and roomed in the asylum with one of the extremists, who told him of a gruesome murder on snowy Mount Kitadake.

Now the weirdly laughing kid, protected by his former nurse (Yuko Natori), may be involved in a blackmail scheme against the other right-wingers, all highly placed businessmen and politicians whose names spell out the acronym MARKS.

Grasping all this would likely add to the enjoyment of the lengthy pic, which is well acted and shot, particularly in an elaborate mountain-top closer. But not many viewers will be willing to sit through it twice, especially given the helmer’s use of incredibly detailed gore. Some of the violence goes on forever, and Sai tends to repeat favorite shots — even if they all too clearly show where the squibs are placed on a gunshot victim’s body. Comments on deep divides in modern Japanese life will be lost on offshore auds, and are probably little welcome at home. But spinoff potential is great for Nakai’s sad-sack Aida, who would wear well in simpler efforts.

Marks

(MAKUSU NO YAMA)

Production

(JAPANESE) A Shochiku Co. (Tokyo) release of a Shochiku/Amuse Inc./Marubeni production. Produced by Renji Tazawa. Executive producers, Shigehiro Nakagawa, Masayuki Miyashita, Kazuhiro Owaki. Directed by Yoichi Sai. Screenplay, Sai, Shoichi Maruyama, based on a novel by Takamura Kaoru.

Crew

Camera (color), Takeshi Hamada; editors, Kenji Goto, Yoshiyuki Okuhara; production design, Tsutomu Imamura; music, Tim Donahue; sound , Osamu Matsumoto, Shuji Inoue; associate producer, Nozomu Enoki. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 10, 1995. Running time: 139 MIN.

With

With: Kiichi Nakai, Masato Hagiwara, Ittoku Kishibe, Masato Furuoya, Takuzo Kakuno, Yuko Natori, Nenji Kobayashi.
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