review:Martin Dowsing

At one point in Flic, a minor character says he joined the police because he saw a French film called Un Flic (A Cop), thus explaining the title of this film. However, Masahiro Kobayashi’s film has little in common thematically or aesthetically with Jean-Pierre Melville’s ice-cool 1972 thriller, and the protagonist here, Detective Murata (Teruyuki Kagawa), could not be further removed from the suave policeman played by Alain Delon. 
Murata has not been to work since the murder of his wife six months earlier. He has tried to resign, but his boss won’t let him. His partner, Namekawa (Seiichi Tanabe), comes to his apartment telling him it’s time to get back to work. Murata reluctantly agrees to join him on an assignment to Tomakomai, an industrial town in Hokkaido, where they are to meet the disabled brother of a murder victim and bring him to Tokyo in order to identify his sister’s body. The victim had been killed with a chainsaw in a love hotel shortly after arriving in Tokyo from Tomakomai, but the murderer is still at large. When they arrive in the town, Namekawa is keen to complete their task as quickly as possible, but Murata goes beyond his remit and begins conducting his own investigation. As Murata is the senior of the two men, there is little Namekawa can do about this, even though the local police dislike such interference. Things become complicated when Murata uncovers clues suggesting that the woman may not have been the victim of a random psychopath after all. However, he is also battling with his own demons – Murata is an alcoholic who has been suffering from insomnia since his wife’s murder, and he finds it increasingly hard to tell the difference between reality and the fantasies playing out in his mind.
This is the kind of film guaranteed to annoy those who like a conventional narrative with everything neatly wrapped up at the end, but those open to something more ambiguous should find this thoroughly absorbing despite the slow pace. Kobayashi often keeps his camera on his actors when they’re not doing anything in particular, and rarely uses close-ups. This has the effect of making you feel you’re watching something real rather than a cleverly-staged scene. And while Flic cannot really be described as a thriller, the story is certainly compelling and goes off in some unexpected directions.
It’s an unsettling film, thanks in large part to Teruyuki Kagawa’s performance. As Murata, he is quite creepy at times, and seems to be in such a pit of despair that social conventions have become meaningless to him. He is rude to his colleagues, and tends to stand too close to people, unnerving them with his thousand-yard stare. At one point there’s a long-held shot of him staring directly at the camera which is truly haunting.
Presumably in order to illustrate Murata’s fractured state of mind, Kobayashi uses repeated pan shots, some of which are exact repeats, some not. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this disorienting technique in another film and, in fact, it’s difficult to think of films with which Flic could be easily compared, although there were certainly times when I was reminded of the work of David Lynch.
A peculiarity of this film is that it’s divided into two ‘chapters’, with the end credits sung by a lone guitarist (Wataru Takada) at the end of each chapter. I’m uncertain whether the film was originally released like this, or whether this is some kind of TV edit of the film.