Third Window Films
Ayame is having a bit of bad day. Until recently she’s been fairly unsuccessful in her career as a pin-up girl, but she finally got her picture featured in a magazine so things were looking up. However, thanks to some rather bizarre goings-on she wasn’t privy to her photo seems to have a strange black mark under her nose - not just on the copy she’s looking at but on all of them. To add insult to injury, the photo has been printed upside down. Ayame is devastated; she’d even told her mother about the photo and now a strange hallucinatory version of her rival and former friend is taunting her about her lack of success. In the middle of all this despair, a rather fed-up shop employee comes over to point out the "no reading" sign so Ayame decides to buy a copy - but what’s this? She’s only come out without her purse! Ayame decides to make a break for it and leave the store without paying but, you guessed it, no such luck.
Luckily her agent comes to the rescue and manages to sort everything out but the police have taken an interest in the goings-on for other reasons. They’re after someone to fill their ‘police chief for a day’ programme, a sort of pretty girl mascot to give the police more of a friendly face. After asking about the agency’s top clients and being rebuffed, they finally resign themselves to asking about Ayame. Unable to refuse Ayame finds herself forced to comply or face the music regarding the shoplifting charge. Oh well, she thinks, it’s only for a day and it’s probably just wearing the uniform for the cameras. When she gets there though everyone starts treating her like the real thing; it’s as if they were so desperate to find a boss anyone would have done. If all of this wasn’t weird enough, one of the first people she runs into is an ex-boyfriend about whom she knows a terrible secret which would make his remaining a police officer extremely awkward. Well, it would in a normal police force anyway, but this place is far from normal. A serial killer on the loose, a robbery and kidnapping taking place aren’t ideal circumstances for anyone’s first day, but can Ayame get through her twenty-four hours of enforced policing with her sanity intact?
The quote that begins the film - "It must be some mistake, that’s the only hope" (from Franz Kafka's The Trial) - may be the only way of describing this totally nonsensical situation. A police force that seems to be made up of idiots and criminals; a trio of outlaws who seem so besotted with their own stun gun it’s a wonder they haven’t given up on the whole crime thing to devote themselves completely to its service; a salaryman who once belonged to ‘the organ transplant club’ in high school - these are just some of the strings that make up this enormously complicated web of interconnections. The term absurd doesn’t really cover it. Consequently, I think your enjoyment of this film is going to depend on your sense of humour even more so than it usually would. For my part this film was completely in tune with my own sensibilities so I warmed to it more or less straight away. However, if you prefer a more straightforward comedic narrative the wackiness of Crime or Punishment may leave you scratching your head.
That’s not to say that all of its efforts work though - for my taste some of the crude humour fell completely flat and felt out of place with the rest of the film. Also, much as I’d have liked them to take time to explain what goes on in the ‘Colourful Dipping Room’ in the dungeon-esque basement of the police station (and believe me I really do want to know), there are times where things start to drag. After watching the clips of the original stage show that are included as part of the special features on this DVD, a part of me felt that perhaps there are aspects of the film that may have come across better on-stage. The theatrical presentation seems much more avant-garde, and Sandorovich presumably had more freedom with regards to narrative and perhaps the freedom to abandon it altogether.
Crime or Punishment?!? is a film that’s likely to divide its audience into those who appreciate its strangeness and those who are unimpressed with its unusual structure. If absurdism is something you enjoy I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this film, but if it’s a traditional narrative structure and more conventional humour that you’re looking for, perhaps Crime or Punishment won’t be for you. However, it’s well worth checking out, even with the slight caveat that its audience is likely to be incredibly niche.
Japanese with optional English subtitles, 45 minute Making Of feature, excerpts from the original stage play, theatrical trailer, trailers of other Third Window releases.