A three-time loser rolls the dice again and wins the attention of both yakuza and police in the perfectly executed Japanese comedy-thriller “Accidental Kidnapper.” A splendid entry in that movie subgenre in which a kid and grown-up bond on the road, helmer Hideo Sakaki’s yarn about a Japanese schlub who kidnaps a gangster’s child tanked in April when local distrib Kadokawa promoted the film as a pure thriller. Apart from Udine’s Asian-themed event and the Tokyo Film Festival, this taut production has been largely overlooked by the fest circuit, though producers could still milk it for remake rights.
Ex-con Hideyoshi Date (Katsunori Takahashi) botches his own suicide with a weak rope and a sturdy cherry blossom tree. Watching the whole pathetic fiasco is precocious 6-year-old Densuke (Roi Hayashi), who’s taken the day off school to wander through Saitama’s parks. Realizing the kid comes from a wealthy family, Date recalls the advice of a former cell-mate (stalwart character actor Takashi Sasano) about kidnapping being the perfect crime, provided the kid is killed after you get the ransom. Date soon realizes he lacks the fortitude to carry out the final step. Unfortunately, he decides to proceed with the kidnapping anyway.
The venture is earmarked for comical disaster from the outset, but the script introduces a series of brave twists that add dramatic heft, including the early revelation that the tyke’s father is a yakuza don. It’s the first of several clever, well-timed narrative maneuvers, showing how high the odds are stacked against Date and immediately putting auds in his corner.
Based on a novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara, whose work also inspired the classy Ken Watanabe-produced weepie “Memories of Tomorrow,” pic shares with that earlier gem a tight structure and a lack of self-consciousness. Script by Hisako Kurosawa (co-writer of Koji Wakamatsu’s considerably less mainstream “Caterpillar”) has a strong cinematic feel, providing thesp-cum-helmer Sakaki with a robust framework on which to build.
Not-too-handsome lead Takahashi (star of spy-guy farce “Mr. Tadano’s Secret Mission”) has the spot-on, worn-out look of a layabout who thought a life of crime would be a good idea. Enjoyable perf from bright-as-a-button Hayashi hits all the right notes, and the duo’s rapport has a winning warmth.
Widescreen lensing by Masayuki Fujii on the Red camera looks sharp but has a matter-of-fact quality that doesn’t get in the way of the story. Izumi Sakaki’s score is used sparingly, but knows how to add charm or tension as required.
Pic’s intended release was stalled when supporting thesp Manabu Oshio was arrested on drug charges; all of Oshio’s scenes were re-shot with the helmer as his replacement. Expensive salvage work had no benefit at the local box office.