'Japan' Movie review: A testing, rudderless concoction of genres

Random is an understatement to explain director Rajumurugan’s Japan as the film gives us the feeling of constantly switching between a weak sitcom and a custodial torture docudrama.
A still from the movie Japan.
A still from the movie Japan.

Milestone films are tricky. While Suriya cracked the golden formula with his masala-packed 25th film Singam and Ajith hit it out of the park with the gangster romance Amarkalam, Vijay missed the bus with the experimental psychological drama Kannukul Nilavu. From what we have seen so far, it is safe to say that there isn’t one success formula that applies to every actor out there. Karthi, who has taken his time to reach the iconic twenty-five-film mark, seems to have wanted the best of both worlds for Japan and has tried to give an ‘experimental-masala’ film! Unfortunately, this experiment is a failure and the masala is distasteful.

Random is an understatement to explain director Rajumurugan’s Japan as the film gives us the feeling of constantly switching between a weak sitcom and a custodial torture docudrama. The screenplay, which tickle-tortures us to laugh for a minute showcasing the quirks of the lead, slaps us with disturbing police brutality footage the next. As if these tonal shifts aren’t enough, the film occasionally switches to parody mode, glancing at the misadventures of Japan as a self-proclaimed film star. When a creator decides to have fun bending genres and topping their film with an extra dash of randomness, they must ensure that the writing is solid. Sadly, Japan is Rajumurugan’s weakest writing to date. This is a rude shock as his recently celebrated directorial Lalagunda Bommaigal, for Modern Love Chennai, is still fresh in our minds for its novelty and wholesomeness.

For a film, that was entirely mounted on the central character, we hardly understand who Japan is. We are told that he forges his own weapons, but all we see is a water gun. We are also told that he is an untraceable master thief, but all we get are shots of him peeping out through newly-blasted holes sporting quirky facemasks. A lot of things are said instead of being shown in Japan, and this practice goes on to ruin the final suspense surrounding the titular character’s mother. He goes on to actually spell out her last words and hint at the kind of dynamics they shared much earlier in the film, ruining the surprisingly effective sentimental portion towards the end.

Looking from afar, Japan’s story is more of a tragedy than a dark comedy. It follows the story of a notorious man, who plans to kick the bucket after doing the most vicious act in his life after he learns that his days are numbered. But, life has its own ways and gives him a second chance to cleanse his sins and attain the ‘nalla saavu’ he desires. The major problem with Japan is not its attempt to infuse humour in a rather serious tale, but not knowing when to stop. A principal character is declared HIV positive in one scene, a person fantasises raping his crush in the other and there is also a sequence involving a leaked sex tape of a bad guy. It feels particularly bizarre that all of these sensitive scenes are treated with an overtone of humour, rich with camera angles and music coercing us to laugh.

Several times in the film, Karthi looks into the camera and throws punchlines like “Idhu Japan... Made in India.” “Ne enna Japan made in China va?” and “Indha Japan ah ethana gundu potalum azhikka mudiaydhu da!” Considering the Tamil cinema-consuming population in Japan, I was wondering if they would be offended by these dialogues. But having watched Japan fully, I can say with confidence the Japanese aren’t alone!

Director:  Rajumurugan
Cast: Karthi, Anu Emmanuel, Sunil, Vijay Milton, Jithan Ramesh, Vagai Chandrasekar
Rating: 2/5

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