'Bad lands' movie review: Not a smooth landing

The film takes a long time to reveal itself, but when it does, its powerful aura is hard to ignore.
'Bad lands' movie review: Not a smooth landing

Directed by Masato Harada, Bad Lands is an adaptation of Hiroyuki Kurokawa’s 2015 novel, Keiso. This long, complex, and often convoluted Japanese film must be viewed, from a critical standpoint, in two parts. The first, that is the set-up, adds perhaps too many unnecessary details. The second, clearly the more impressive section, offers deep revelations. At its core, it is the story of Neri (Sakura Ando), a woman who makes her money working for a scam-call racket in Osaka.

The middle-aged Takagi (Katsuhisa Namase) is her boss. There’s a subtle mentor-mentee relationship here, but not of the good kind. Neri is calm, scheming and forceful. The only time there’s mild subservience in her manner is when she’s in contact with Takagi. Takagi, for his part, spouts generalities like “everyone has a role to fulfil” and “we all have someone to be answerable to”. Their primary business is defrauding senior citizens.

Harada takes his own sweet time to build the story. At 143 minutes, we begin getting to the crux of the narrative only at the halfway stage. There’s enough evidence to suggest a highly complicated relationship between Neri and Takagi at the very beginning, but the former’s back story doesn’t start taking shape until the second half. This technique of laying down every little detail works better in the longer format. In a film, a set-up that doesn’t give much away, leading to powerful or illuminating discoveries down the road, is much appreciated. But during that build-up, it is key not to lose the audience.

The themes of childhood abuse, violence, complex power dynamics between parents and children, and neglect, take their time to emerge, but when they do, the film comes into its own. Neri’s outward self-assurance is pitted against her inner battle. She rarely shows affection, not even to her unhinged and impulsive half-brother. Even before her past is explored, we can see glimpses of her trauma. It takes a special actor to shoulder the burden of a difficult role like this. Hats off to the splendid Sakura Ando, for giving us a character so hard to read, yet relatable.

The lilting classical music makes itself known from time to time, but even in those solitary seconds, the pain and darkness associated with the lead character’s journey is felt deeply. There is much to admire about Bad Lands and Harada’s vision. The film takes a long time to reveal itself, but when it does, its powerful aura is hard to ignore.

bad lands
Director: Masato Harada
Genre: Thriller
Platform: Netflix
Language: English

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