Most movies don’t persuade the viewer that sending a person down for murder could be the ultimate act of love, but then most films aren’t Crime or Punishment?!?. The adjective ‘wacky’ is so often used to describe things from Japan that it has become a completely banal and trite observation, but this film is so completely batshit insane that it could only have come from Japan.
Directed and written by Keralino Sandrovich (born Kazumi Kobayashi, he is a renowned theatre director, musician, and actor), Crime or Punishment?!? is like David Lynch reading a Kafka novel through a metaphorical pair of Marx Brothers glasses. Through its complicated, jumpy storyline, a vague plot can be surmised – a struggling model is taken on, after committing a minor crime, as the Chief of Police. It’s ostensibly a PR stunt but the police staff, for reasons that are never quite made clear, treat her as the real Chief of Police and look to her for guidance and orders as a kidnapping unfolds.
Throughout the two hours the viewer spends ensconced in this funny, disturbing, gory and colourful world, many different things happen – a serial murderer who ‘loves people to death’ is prevented from confessing his crimes; a man in love with a girl in a supermarket gets hit by a truck; a ragtag trio of small-time crooks argue amongst themselves, resulting in the possible deaths of their pet fish; all of these stories, whose positions in the narrative are never quite clear, come together at the end in what amounts to a satisfactory but not completely satisfying ending.
That’s not to say that the film isn’t entertaining, however; far from it. This film is perfect for fans of Japanese television, such is its bland yet colourful style. The film is stylish but isn’t very cinematic at all and feels strangely lacking visually. In a way this suits the film as it seems less imposing as a result – audiences seem to have more patience with confusing television shows than they do with confusing films, so the unprepossessing and unrefined style works in its favour. Even with no experience of Asian television, anyone reasonably au-fait with Asian cinema, Korean comedy in particular, will recognise certain tropes that appear in this film – an obsession with placing attractive girls in positions of power, or arming them with especially brutal weapons; the stereotype of the loner businessman whose only life is his work; the handsome, young man who is slightly roguish but ultimately just wants to be loved; and idiotic policemen.
In its humorous portrayal of the Japanese police force, it could be seen as a more cartoonish version of the Korean-made Memories of Murder, and fans of the latter would do well to seek out this film. It’s fun and, with work, is deeply enjoyable. Just remember that sometimes, things aren’t always supposed to make complete sense.