When radicals from Japan's Red Army took a woman hostage in the resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano in 1972, Officer Atsuyuki Sassa was put in charge of diffusing the situation. But the task ... See full summary »
When radicals from Japan's Red Army took a woman hostage in the resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano in 1972, Officer Atsuyuki Sassa was put in charge of diffusing the situation. But the task had its challenges. Upon arriving in mountainous Nagano, Sassa had to compete with freezing winter temperatures, conflicting opinions between the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the Nagano Prefectural Police, as well as public opinion to gain entrance to the lodge that held the single woman captive. Written by
In "Totsunyuseyo! 'Asama Sanso' Jiken"(2002), Harada Masato offers up a picturesque account of the 1972 Karuizawa hostage incident, which took place under frigid conditions in Nagano, Japan. Based on an account penned by the main character Sassa Atsuyuki, it chronicles the ineffectiveness of coordinated law enforcement protocol when conducted in an atmosphere of petty politics, impossible restrictions, poor planning, miscommunication and over-inflated egos. Alternately titled `The Choice of Hercules', Sassa (Yakusho Koji) is a mid-level career man in the Tokyo Metro Police who is forced to bide his time until he reaches an `acceptable' age before being promoted (in itself a critique of the much-maligned system). To this end, he is assigned menial tasks in addition to being sent overseas to study law enforcement techniques in the West. As such, he is the most qualified to respond when a situation erupts for which local law enforcement is totally unprepared - the violent takeover of a mountain resort lodge in Nagano by armed Japan Red Army operatives.
His arrival on scene is the beginning of a huge red-tape battle between the local Nagano Prefectural Police and the hotshots from Tokyo, but even before he leaves, his boss in Tokyo gives him strict written orders which practically doom the rescue operation from the start. Among them are explicit orders not to kill (and thereby martyr) any of the Red Army operatives, along with orders forbidding the use of firearms without permission from Tokyo Metro Police HQ. Sufficiently handicapped as he brings his proverbial knife to a gunfight, Sassa faces the Herculean task of placating the bickering law enforcement factions, as well as enacting the non-lethal rescue capture of six very hostile perpetrators holding a single hostage.
Overall, the story is comical at times, but also sternly critical of the inefficiency that results from too much red tape and not enough common sense. In carrying out his task, Sassa is no John McLane (e.g., Bruce Willis' `Die Hard' character), and not even a Jack Ryan-variant unwilling hero. He is more of a Japanese corporate hero, because he manages to execute his orders no matter how stupid they are, while maintaining his dignity and winning the respect of others. Amidst the utter anarchy of two non-coordinated entry teams using poorly orchestrated cover fire (via an APC-mounted water cannon, a semi-functional wrecking ball, and 40mm CS rounds mistakenly fired onto the entry teams), Sassa strives to achieve the impossible.
The cinematography is most impressive, as it reminds the viewer that while the winter landscapes are breathtakingly beautiful to behold, they also bugger up the police activity outside the lodge, making it a snowy, slushy mess. Even the press conferences are shot through a thick haze of second-hand smoke - scenes you can almost smell as you watch (yuck).
I credit Harada for not oversimplifying the use of firearms in the movie, although it is conceivable that six rifle-wielding snipers could inflict much higher kill rates than portrayed in the film, particularly since the police refused to return fire. Even though Harada's characters concede that their double-walled riot shields won't stop a rifle projectile, we don't see many shields breached, and the only direct hits are on those not utilizing them. Other than that, my only real critique of the film is the fact that despite the 70's look of the police vehicles, there is little in the area of Yakusho Koji's suits, hairstyle or mannerisms that would seem out of place in 2002 (other than perhaps a blatant lack of keitai).
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