Wednesday, 16 December 2015

This review was originally published on my Tumblr just over a year ago. I read it again recently and was reminded of why I love Takashi Miike so much - a director I've fallen out of love with to some degree over the past year or so. In celebration of this remembrance, I thought I'd republish a slightly edited version of the review here.

During the first court case in Takashi Miike’s Ace Attorney, the witness testimony is visualised: Miike recreates an interpretation of a crime and presents it as a truth, as it would be perceived in the context of a courtroom - the suspect is shown committing the crime. Then, the defence lawyer finds the flaws and contradictions in the story (a lamp that couldn’t have been where the witness says it was, a wall blocking sight-lines from the hotel room opposite, a clock modelled after Rodin’s The Thinker that couldn't possibly be mistaken for a clock), and the visual testimony is updated accordingly, systematically eliminating all traces of doubt and proving the inaccuracy of the original narrative. Is the witness lying, or has their memory distorted the truth? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that their story has been proven wrong, and the defendant can no longer be considered a suspect.

With Ace Attorney, Miike exploits the idea that visual accounts are inherently more truthful than verbal or written ones to plant a seed of doubt in everything he tells (or shows) us, forcing us and the characters to disregard conjecture and opinion to rely solely on irrefutable evidence when developing our own theories on the crime. This conflict between fact and assumption dominates the film, as defence attorney Phoenix Wright fights a series of uphill battles to prove that his client, rival attorney and former classmate Miles Edgeworth, is not a murderer, even as the supposedly concrete evidence stacks up against him.

Due to the record-high number of crimes being committed, the court system is under severe strain, and has been retrofitted for maximum excitement and efficiency: fought in open court, the prosecution and the defence are given just three days to prove one way or the other whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty before the judge delivers a verdict. Tickets are sold for each trial, and there are no empty seats; hologram boards displaying evidence can be thrown around the courtroom; and huge confetti canons are set off to celebrate the verdict. Attorneys are superstars, fighting off crowds of reporters when entering and leaving the courthouse. This is criminal justice as a spectator sport, favouring speed over diligence and profits over verdicts. Miike enhances the crowd-pleasing side of the process further by positioning the witness stand in the centre of the courtroom, shooting characters head-on with an enthralled audience dominating the background. This contrast suggests the spectators are as important, if not more so, than the fairness of the process, which, considering the excitement surrounding each case, would understandably create a situation of bias - one character, who assumes the defence is “on the criminal’s side,” explicitly states the reason she fabricated her testimony was due to her excitement at being a witness in a murder case.

But, in spite of all the chaos, every lie told in the film is exposed by the frantic investigations of Phoenix Wright. A couple take a self-timed photo together in front of a lake. As the photo is taken they hear a loud noise behind them, and as they check the photo they see what looks like a giant tentacle crashing into the water. The picture is picked up by the media, creating a sensation, and hundreds of people flock to the lake in the hope of seeing the monster - a monster later revealed to be the flailing, deflating arm of a giant, punctured samurai balloon. Images can be deceiving. Fact trumps assumption.

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