“Hero” rocks. You don’t have to have seen the hit 2001 TV series or the 2006 two-hour special to appreciate this bigscreen continuation of the legal adventures of an unconventional district attorney taking on political corruption in contempo Tokyo. Produced by “Bayside Shakedown” mastermind Chihiro Kameyama with the same warm mix of comedy and drama, pic has become Japan’s big local scorer of the year since its Sept. 8 release, racking up nearly $60 million to date. Asian biz should have a similarly meaty trajectory, though, as with “Bayside,” this highly accessible crowd-pleaser unfortunately looks likely to bypass Western marts.
Much of the draw for Asian auds is the presence of top boy-bander Takuya Kimura in the role of longhaired Kohei Kuryu, a punkster-turned-public prosecutor who (shock!) wears jeans and plaid shirts to the office. But even without knowledge of who Kimura is, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the ensemble perfs (reuniting the original casts), plot twists and well-drawn characters, all directed with bigscreen panache by Masayuki Suzuki (“GTO”), who also helmed the two tube outings.
Six years (literally) have gone by since Kuryu last strolled into the Josai branch office of Tokyo’s public prosecutor, after having been “exiled” at the end of the 2001 series to an out-of-town position (the subject of the 2006 special). His loyal assistant, Maiko Amamiya (Takako Matsu) gives him a hard time for never calling but still carries a major torch for the red-haired thirtysomething.
Kuryu is assigned an apparently simple case of manslaughter, in which a blond-haired security guard accidentally killed a guy during an argument one night. But when the guard suddenly changes his plea from guilty to not guilty, Kuryu and his team find they’ve been handed a political hot potato.
Turns out the guard reps a key alibi for Hanaoka (Kazuyoshi Morita), a former transport minister accused of accepting a huge bribe that same night. Hence the guard’s sudden switch (under pressure from Hanaoka’s men) to a not-guilty plea.
Kuryu’s pursuit of the truth takes him and Amamiya to Busan, South Korea, to track down the guard’s van, which has mysteriously gone missing. There, amid much linguistic comedy involving the non-Korean-speaking Kuryu and Amamiya, they get caught up with local gangsters, from whom they’re rescued by a local cop (Korean star Lee Byeong-heon).
Though fans of the TV series may feel shortchanged by the relatively little screen time devoted to Kuryu and Amamiya’s six other colleagues, helmer Suzuki and scripter Yasushi Fukuda (“Hypnosis,” “Umizaru”) still manage an ensemble feel, with brief references to each character’s background. Though there’s less action than in police procedural “Bayside,” the tone is the same mildly goofy one, with moments of pure drama and excitement as the case unfolds.
Kimura makes a likably louche lead and shows excellent onscreen chemistry with Matsu as the bespectacled, super-loyal Maiko. Other playing is strong down the line, especially Teruyuki Kagawa as the hardboiled head of the DA office’s special investigations unit and Toshiro Matsumoto as wily defense attorney Gamo, who develops a professional respect for the maverick Kuryu.
Pic’s look is considerably different from that of the edgier “Bayside,” with much glossier lensing and immaculately composed widescreen visuals by d.p. Takahiro Tsutai, especially in office and courtroom scenes. Score by Takayuki Hattori plays up the heroic moments as well as the quieter, more romantic ones between Kuryu and Amamiya.