Crime Drama Is Intense, Twisty Slow-Burn

Dec 25, 2022

Home Movie Reviews Missing Review: Crime Drama Is Intense, Twisty Slow-Burn [Fantastic Fest]

With its twists and turns, fascinating themes, and depth, Missing is a strong first feature entry from Shinzô Katayama.

Missing (Sagasu in Japanese) — the feature directorial debut from Shinzô Katayama, who also co-writes the script alongside Kazuhisa Kotera and Ryô Takada — is a solid, and often exciting, drama. The story is layered with mystery, moral ambiguity, and characters who aren’t always who they seem to be at first. The film doesn’t offer any easy answers when it comes to its characters and the situations they find themselves in, but Missing certainly makes for an engrossing watch. With its twists and turns, fascinating themes, and depth, Missing is a strong first feature entry from Shinzô Katayama.

Missing begins with Kaede Harada (Aoi Itô), a teenager who is called to pick up her father, Santoshi (Jirô Satô), after he is caught shoplifting. Santoshi has been on a downward spiral for a while now. Following the death of his wife, he’s been grieving, his business has taken a plunge, and he’s in a lot of debt. Kaede has, in many ways, become the caretaker, though she admonishes her father about his behavior. Santoshi, however, suggests he find the serial killer known as No-Name (Hiroya Shimizu) to win the reward money and get their life back on track. Kaede doesn’t take Santoshi’s plan seriously, but when she wakes up the next day with her father missing, she goes searching for him. The answers she finds, however, are not the ones she expected.

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Missing is a surprising movie. It starts off one way and sets up audience expectations before taking a sharp turn, pulling the rug out from under viewers and leaving them questioning exactly what they’re watching. The shift in direction and in character focus — which occurs at the midway point — is done well. The film wrestles with the idea of morality and how anyone is capable of committing horrible acts against others when put in certain circumstances. From his perspective, Santoshi doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong; the victims who are targeted claim they want to die. Is Santoshi doing them a favor or is he helping a killer? He’s a morally ambiguous character whose desperation fuels his actions, and the film doesn’t offer any concrete answers as to his actions, leaving the audience to ponder about the gray area he’s been firmly placed in.

On the other hand, Kaede is on the opposing side, in which she knows certain actions are unacceptable. It’s a fascinating dichotomy and works in the film’s favor, especially as it nears its ending, which will leave audiences thinking about the ramifications for a while after. Kotera’s film is clever in that it subverts the audience’s expectations, as well as shifts the dynamic between father and daughter. Crime thrillers have a tendency to see the father desperately in search for his kidnapped daughter, but Missing does the opposite, putting Kaede in the position of finding her father and going to great lengths to do so. This gives her a lot of agency, and both she and Santoshi are directly involved in the plot and how everything ultimately goes down. It’s a captivating slow-burn that works because of the twists in the story, and the ethical questions the film offer.

Where the film could have flourished further is in its character dynamics. Kaede’s relationship with her father is established early on, but they could have shared a few more scenes before he disappears. While the ending itself is riveting and satisfying, Missing often lacks the right amount of suspense to make big moments more effective. Scenes are built up and executed in a way that is meant to elevate each new revelation, but there is a lack of urgency in a lot of instances, urgency that would have created more tension and suspense had it been present. Nonetheless, Missing is an enjoyable, captivating ride that will leave viewers in shock.

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Missing had its premiere in September at Fantastic Fest 2022. The film is 124 minutes long and is not rated.

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