High-flying adventure makes an awkward crash landing in Nipponese actioner "Midnight Eagle."

High-flying adventure makes an awkward crash landing in Nipponese actioner “Midnight Eagle.” Pic, which opened the Tokyo fest, has aroused industry interest due to Universal Japan’s investment of major coin alongside 11 other Japanese companies. But while key blockbuster elements (ticking bombs, intrepid reporters, lightweight politics) are all present, the film’s brisk pacing can’t hide the fuzzy logic of the tenuously structured, convoluted script. Opening locally on more than 300 screens Nov. 23, misfire is likely to make a significant, if brief, impact on Japan’s B.O. Much smaller Stateside release, skedded for December, looks to have minimal impact.

After a long stint as a war-zone photog, disillusioned Yuji Nishizaki (Takao Osawa) retires to take nature photos in Japan’s Northern Alps. Camping out in the snow, Yuji photographs a bright light flash which turns out to be a U.S. stealth bomber — known as Midnight Eagle — crashing into a mountain peak with its warhead still intact.

Yuji sends a copy of the photo to his young son Yu (Hiroki Sahara), who lives in Tokyo with Yuji’s sister-in-law Keiko Arisawa (Yuko Takeuchi), a journalist with custody of the boy. Keiko blames globetrotting snapper Yuji’s neglect for her sister’s death two years ago.

Showing neglectful tendencies herself, Keiko leaves Yu home alone when she’s dispatched to investigate rumors of two wounded “Asian” agents (read: North Koreans — the original Japanese dialogue identifies the agents as being from the North). The pair are suspected of possessing a military secret after their successful infiltration of a U.S. army base.

Meanwhile, Japanese prime minister Watarase (Tatsuya Fuji) mobilizes Japan’s Self-Defense Force to head off an armed battalion of “Asians” who are advancing on the crash site. Foreign seizure of the warhead would create international incident, and if the warheads explode, ecological disaster could ensue.

Pic relies heavily on the star-power of Osawa (“Crying Out Love in the Center of the World”) and Takeuchi (“Ring”) to pull local auds. Thesps do the best they can, but only Eisaku Yoshida (“Aegis”), who plays the cheerful commander of the Defense Force, distinguishes himself.

Cutting by vet editor William Anderson (“Green Card,” “The Truman Show”) helps maintain momentum, but the strained script, laden with too much nonsensical talk, doesn’t help. Musings on Japan’s role in contemporary world affairs — a mixture of peace-mongering and nationalism — are familiar from recent WWII dramas like “For Those We Love” and “Yamato,” and would best be trimmed for Stateside release.

Seasoned d.p. Hideo Yamamoto (“Audition,” “Grudge,” “Hana-bi”) provides top-notch widescreen visuals. Special effects, though under-used, are also aces.

Midnight Eagle

Japan

Production

A Shochiku (in Japan)/Universal (in U.S.) release of a Universal Pictures Japan, Shochiku, Geneon Entertainment, TV Asahi, Asahi Broadcasting, Nagoya Hokkaido TV Broadcasting, Kyushu Asahi Broadcasting, Broadcasting Network, Niigata Television Network 21, Imagica, Usen, Destiny production, in association with Bungeishunju. (International sales: Shochiku, Tokyo.) Produced by Shohei Kotaki, Kanjiro Sakura. Directed by Izuru Narushima. Screenplay, Yasuo Hasegawa, Kenzaburo Iida, based on a novel by Tetsuo Takashima.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Hideo Yamamoto; editor, William Anderson; music, Takeshi Kobayashi; production designer, Hajime Oikawa; sound (Dolby Digital), Osamu Onodera. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (market), Oct. 22, 2007. (Also Tokyo Film Festival opener.) Running time: 132 MIN.

With

Takao Osawa, Yuko Takeuchi, Hiroshi Tamaki, Eisaku Yoshida, Tatsuya Fuji, Sayaka Kaneko, Kazuki Namioka, Hiroki Sahara. (Japanese, English dialogue)
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