Enjoyable action-comedy that is a showcase for talented Takeda Tetsuya...
Watanabe Yusuke's funny and surprisingly touching "Keiji Monogatari" (A Detective's Story) is an enjoyable action comedy that succeeds on the strength of lead actor, Takada Tetsuya's likability and charm. He makes for an unlikely action hero and displays some impressive martial arts skills (even if played for laughs).
Takeda Tetsuya is probably best known for his beloved role as earnest and dedicated teacher Sakamoto Kimpachi from the long running family drama series "San Nen 'B' Gumi Kimpachi Sensei" (Teacher Kimpachi of Junior High Classroom B). Trained as an educator prior to becoming an actor, the series made Takada a TV icon in Japan and also type-casted him into the understanding, sympathetic and fatherly character he often is cast as...a lovable loser with a heart of gold who understands and relates to the concerns of Japanese youth. Takada's easygoing manner and gentle spirit carried over to his subsequent dramas (including the wonderful "101 Kai Me No Propose" and is also reflective in his music including "Kimpachi's" theme song "Okuru Kotoba" (Words of Wisdom) which he sang with his folk group "Kaentai".
"Keiji Monogatari" was one of the first of his big screen films that attempted to change his image (albeit slightly). He is still the sympathetic, bumbling loser with a heart of gold but now he is gentle police detective Katayama Hajime, a rural cop who seems to be more at ease counseling underage prostitutes than analyzing crime scenes. You might say he's like Columbo but unfortunately without the sharp analytic skills. What he does have however is wicked fighting skills that he displays when pushed to the breaking point or when facing hateful criminals and Yakuza scum. In fact part of the joy of "Keiji Monogatari" and its sequels is seeing Takeda (who bulked up and received Martial Arts training for the role) showing off his dexterity and improvisational skills as he takes ordinary household object and makes them into fighting weapons - hangers, wet towels, broom sticks etc.) Taking his cue from Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, Takeda is absolutely hilarious as he punches and kicks his way through waves of criminals. Very much like the "Tora-san series", detective Katayama is transferred from one police station to another across Japan, meeting up with various beautiful "madonnas", falling in love only to lose the girl in various situations.
"Keiji Monogatari" begins with detective Katayama in his native Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture busting in on an illegal "Turko" (Soap Land) establishment. He meets up with beautiful Hisako (first time actress Ariga Hisayo) who is deaf and was forced into this position to survive. Taking pity on the orphaned young girl, whom he decides to act as her temporary guardian. He takes her to Hiroshima Prefecture where he is transferred to and where coincidently the "Turko's" Yakuza backed owners are based. It is here that Katayama uncovers an even more darker prostitution ring that kidnaps and "rents" out ordinary girls to wealthy clients (operating out of a legitimate dry cleaning operation) Hisayo also encounters a kindred spirit in another deaf individual (the wonderful Tanaka Kunie) who she soon falls in love with.
Takeda is one of the few movie stars that can carry an entire movie and he does so effortlessly here. Takeda is supported in his efforts by an all-star cast of recognizable faces including Kobayashi Akiji (Ultraman, Kamen Rider), Kiki Kirin (Returner, Inochi), Nishida Toshiyuki (Tsuribaka Nisshi series) and Kusunagi Kojiro (Be-Bop High School, W No Higeki) who all put in great performances. Even the great Takakura Ken makes a cameo as Takeda's replacement.
Watanabe Yusuke's direction is good but it is star Takeda's engaging screenplay that is the biggest surprise. Wonderfully written which balances melodrama and action quite well. If one flaw can be identified it is with Ariga's performance that while fairly good and admirable (she is not deaf) does fall a bit short (it is said that Ariga herself stated that she didn't like her performance and left acting shortly after completing this film).
Just recently released to DVD, this is a true gem that most certainly deserves a look (why it took so long is anyone's guess).
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