Wow, I did not see THAT coming. Or that. Or this other thing.
Shinzô Katayama’s “Missing” is a serial killer thriller that trips you up, bounces you around and repels and entertains you all along the way.
The assistant director of “Mother” doesn’t exactly play fair — shifting his narrative’s point of view, folding the story back in on its opening image, then cheating its way past it. But damn, it’s quite a ride.
A motherless middle school girl (Aoi Itô) has to come down to a shop where her father (Jirô Satô) has tried to skip out on a bill. He seems drunk, distracted, and we get the impression that this isn’t his first run-in with the Osaka PD. We also get the impression that whatever happened to his wife/her mother might be behind it.
Kaede gets Dad off with an “As you can see, my dad’s not all there” (in Japanese with English subtitles). But we’ve seen the film’s opening image. And thanks to the news, we know what some people do with hammers like the one her father is seen staggering around with, confused and upset, in that moment.
Kaede should be obsessing over that boy at school who is determined to be her middle school beau. But no, her father — reduced to day work jobs — is a mess. And then he disappears.
“Don’t look for me. I’m fine” was his last text message.
The cops want to know if Dad drinks, if he’s in debt? The wrecking yard where he supposedly showed up for day work has another man with his name on the clock, a young, boy-band skinny nail-biter. Is that a clue?
Why yes it is. But not one Kaede shares with the police. We heard Dad mention that he’d seen a guy who appeared on a sort of “Japan’s Most Wanted” TV show on the train, a skinny, brooding nail-biter.
With Mr. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend in tow, and later with a concerned teacher, Kaede travels far and wide in suburban Osaka in search of her father, or the serial killer who might know what happened to him.
Katayama makes Kaede’s share of the story entertaining by showing us a brave, furious child out to find a father who doesn’t want to be found. If something happened to him, so be it. She’ll find this “No Name” killer, whom the cops have named (Hiroya Shimizu).
When she stumbles into him in an abandoned building, what does he do? Kill her, because, you know, that’s what serial killers do? No. He flees.
We get it. She’s a teenage girl. Terrifying.
I like the way the story sort of hands off responsibility for Kaede from one character to another. And then, just as we’re settling in for a quest, Katayama changes points of view. We start following Dad and see what he’s been up to and how all this ties together.
The violence in this second half of the narrative is more explicit, the reasons for it deeply rooted in Japanese culture and altogether grimmer. And every time we think we have a handle on who’s doing what to whom, and how that works in this murderous puzzle, another wrinkle is added.
It can be a little confusing as we shift back to “three months ago” and then “13 months ago,” tying everything together, climaxing with a masterfully-conceived game of real-time ping pong that has a whiff of cat and mouse about it.
Katayama — he also wrote and directed “Siblings of the Cape” — announces himself as a Japanese thriller director to watch with this. “Missing” leaves nothing out, no mysterious stone unturned, no surprise twist un-attempted and little to chance.
Rating: unrated, graphic violence, nudity
Cast: Jirô Satô, Aoi Itô and Hiroya Shimizu
Credits: Directed by Shinzô Katayama, scripted by Shinzô Katayama, Kazuhisa Kotera and Ryô Takada. A DarkStar release.
Running time: 2:03