Trigger Warning: This review discusses topics pertaining to suicide and depression.
I’ve covered actor Jiro Sato in mostly comedy roles since he first landed on my radar with Gintama, The Fable, the sequels to both, and eventually From Today, It’s My Turn!!. So, it’s definitely been rewarding to get to explore more of Sato’s dimensions in Siblings Of The Cape helmer and Bong Joon-ho vet Shinzô Katayama’s crime drama, Missing, in which he stars opposite young actress Aoi Ito, who’s been a burgeoning talent for nearly a decade now.
The film is actually one of a few credits the two actors share together with the other being NHK series “Hikikomori Sensei”. I haven’t seen that show, although still, I reckon anytime actors reunite from a previous project, then it’s usually a good thing. At least here in Missing, it shows, with Sato and Ito in the respective roles of former ping pong studio proprietor, Satoshi, and daughter Kaede in a story about a family already neck-deep in coping with loss and tragedy, on top of mounting financial debt.
Missing eventually kicks off as Kaede manages to mitigate a crisis between Satoshi and the police when he shortchanges a local store. The following morning, Kaede awakens only to find her father suddenly gone from home. Desperate for help, she starts putting out fliers with the help of a neighbor until one day she gets a text from her father’s phone, telling her not to look for her and that he is fine. It’s a crushing moment of what almost becomes defeat, while Kaede is quicker to stick to her intuition, as the presence of an elusive fugitive wanted in question for the murders of several people could be the one link that brings her the answers she’s looking for. However, what she doesn’t know is that what she may find could bring about more questions, with even more peculiar and chilling answers.
Missing presents a nimbly crafted tale of crime and mystery, one that also places an inherent focus on the dark complexities of depression, and bringing reason and forethought to sensitive topics pertaining to mental illness and suicide without justifying the more salacious and sadistic mannerisms that meander about. The result is a brilliantly woven story told from one perspective in its first half before exploring different angles from its remaining characters. In addition to Kaede, get to see events from the points of view of Satoshi, as well as actor Hiroya Shimizu’s mysterious character, a runaway killer with a certain kink he discovers one day while bunking at an old man’s island cabin after running away from a previous attempt to kill a woman. Going forward, we see how he manages to find a way to exploit his fetish, ultimately doing so through some enterprising of his own, discovering an already traumatized Satoshi who struggles to care for his suicidal wife, Kimiko (Toko Narushima) who suffers from ALS.
Front and center of it all at first, of course, is actress Yui in the role of Kaede, a pre-high school teenager already enveloped in her own beleaguring growing pains with rumor-mongering peers and an incorrigible boy in her class who has a crush on her. The second she notices her father has disappeared is right when everything else gets shelved, although there’s a moment when she turns to the boy for help when her investigation reaches a twist, and Kaede is forced to do make a deal. It’s hard to watch, and it’s also one of the most consequential moments of the film from a thematic standpoint, particularly when this moment is viewed from the perspective of the one important character who matters most.
One other moment I thought was just as resultant is the final shot of the film, led up from the moment Satoshi and Kaede reconvene at the old ping-pong studio. The two are playing a game for the first time in a long time following a moment within the film’s first ten minutes, and it’s the film’s final reveal that brings everything full circle in a true test of love between a father and daughter who’ve already been through so much that they make what feels like a truly significant breakthrough, even if it might be their last.
Joined by well-versed actors in Sato and Shimizu, Yui brings just as much energy, gravitas, and poise to her performance, rightly meeting the caliber of an award-winning director in Katayama that makes Missing worth its ceremony from festival crowds and moviegoers alike, and for that matter, a movie totally worth catching.
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Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.