Title: MW
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Starring: Hiroshi Tamaki, Takayuki Yamada, Kazuaki Hankai
Director: Hitoshi Iwamoto
Language: Japanese

Sometimes I can't quite understand how films like this go about completely unheard of whilst Hollywood thrillers become so well recognised. There has always seemed to be a shortage of intelligent thrillers, and whilst this does little that hasn't been done before, for the most part it still does it competently. Released in 2009 and with no visible budget constraints, this feels like an epic tale of two friends compressed into a viable run time. The sole survivors of a malicious government cover up; when a trace amounts of an experimental nerve gas, MW, being developed by the US military was released on a small remote island off the coast of the Japanese mainland, the village was burnt to the ground and any fleeing survivors shot. Only Yuki and Gurai managing to escape, Gurai stumbled only to be rescued by Yuki, who as a result inhaled a portion of the gas.

Tormented by his debt to Yuki for unquestionably saving his life – a fact he plays on – Gurai feels compelled to help him through guilt, convinced that the despicable atrocities he commits in order to further his own agenda are a result of his consumption of the deadly chemical which has eroded his ability to determine right from wrong. Taking over the job of priest after the man who took him in, he fears for the children in the convent and what Yuki might do them should he betray him. Yuki, on the other hand, is reminded of the torturous events that were hidden out of sight each day by his debilitating affliction, and targets those few officials that managed to escape from the island and were given government contracts in league with the man who ordered the cover up with little on his mind except exacting his revenge; a bloody scheme that has quickly earned him the attention of a seasoned detective and inquisitive journalist who find themselves caught in a race against time to stop him before he finds the last of the chemical weapon.

As to be expected with a plot of this much detail there are flaws in the end result; the conflict between the two friends never feels like it emerges until the very end. There's a certain degree of tension but with one of the pair being so passive in the face of a monster with such an unpredictable disposition, no conflict arises until he finally has the stones to act. If he feels he himself is safe, this is never truly made clear; perhaps he doesn't realise the extent of Yuki's plan, but then why else would he desire the MW gas for himself? Their relationship all feels a little wishy-washy, as does most relationships in this film in fact, but it's here that it feels most problematic. There are other bit-parts – mostly to give the detective and journalist someone to converse with – which could have been solved with lengthier encounters with our two partners[1].

Despite it's two hour run time it could easily have handled another hour of character development as an awful lot occurs, and whilst demonstrative of a good pacing never allows the characters to further the plot, instead seeming more content to let the plot toss them into new situations. This is even more tragic when you consider the strength of the scenes where they both emerge; the knife-edge relationship the Garai treads with his unpredictable partner and the deadly virus Yuki is afflicted with, displaying his weakness to the audience and his uncharacteristically heavy reliance on Garai's support begging for more detail but never seems to go anywhere. Simply once mentioned and then forgotten except as a point of 'what they did to us,' without a greater elaboration on precisely what was done to them.

This is a film that opened with such a strength that I was sure I was onto a hidden gem, but as more details unfolded it felt like more and more had been left out. Based on a manga, I can't help but feel that it shouldn't have paid so much attention to the length of the final film and left the small details in as it is this that would have turned it from a run of the mill film; a 'nothing particularly special' into an epic tale of the two in constant battle with their own emotions about each other, tied together by fate. As it stands, its a solid effort that's a shadow of what it could have been.

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