Offbeat Cops (異動辞令は音楽隊!, Eiji Uchida, 2022)

A maverick lone wolf comes to understand that it’s all about harmony after getting demoted to the police band in Eiji Uchida’s procedural dramedy, Offbeat Cops (異動辞令は音楽隊!,  Ido Jirei wa Ongakutai!). Offbeat is definitely one way to describe Naruse (Hiroshi Abe) who has not only been taken off the streets but is constantly out of step not just with the times, but with his colleagues and family members too. Yet like so many in his position, he thinks it’s the world that’s wrong only later realising that creating a harmonious society is another means of effective policing. 

That realisation is however hard won. An unreconstructed ‘70s cop, Naruse thinks being a detective’s all about intimidation. He reads the paper during morning briefings and ignores advice from his superiors, insisting that it’s legwork that counts in modern day policing while privately convinced that a repeat offender he failed to catch five years previously is linked to a current spate of burglaries targeting the older generation in which scammers ring up claiming to be from the crime prevention squad and convince elderly people to tell them where the valuables are before breaking in, tying them up, and robbing the place. Barging into a suspect’s home without a warrant and threatening violence, he tries to prove his theory but is soon hauled before his bosses and told there’s been a complaint about him so he’s being demoted to the police band. 

One criticism he’d repeatedly received was that he had no ability to work as a team, always heading off to do his own thing rather than following the investigative line of the offer in charge. His demotion to the band is then ironic, especially as he’s being asked to play the drums, given that in order to succeed he’ll have to learn to march to the common beat. But being demoted eats away at his sense of self. If he’s not a cop then what is he and why are they making him waste his time on music when there are real bad guys out there cheating vulnerable people out of their life savings. Having divorced two years previously his relationship with teenage daughter Noriko (Ai Mikami) is already strained while he is also sole carer to his elderly mother (Mitsuko Baisho) who is suffering from dementia and keeps asking for his ex-wife and late father. He often snaps at her, cruelly reminding her of the reality rather than trying to be mindful of her constant confusion. 

What he realises while playing in the band is that wading in all fists blazing is not the only way to fight crime. After encountering a cheerful old lady who enjoyed his drum playing and tells him that she looks forward to hearing the police band play, he comes to understand that people want different things from their police force and community support is just as much a part of that as chasing crooks in the street. Though he has been relegated to the band, many of his colleagues are expected to do their regular jobs too and have familial responsibilities and petty resentments of their own. Meanwhile, his former partner begins to reflect on Naruse’s dogged love of justice in his absence taking on more than a few of his characteristics in his determination to catch the criminal, realising that perhaps it’s alright to bend the rules a little if the occasion calls as long as you don’t take it too far. 

Jamming with his new colleagues Naruse finally begins to realise the importance of group harmony, acknowledging his faults and apologising for them while rebuilding his relationships with friends and family. He may be wearing a different uniform, but he’s still a policeman and as long as the bad guys get caught it doesn’t matter by who. The big wigs may think the police band’s not really important, but as the banner says it helps build a bridge between the police force and the community which in turn helps prevent crime and leads to a happier, more harmonious society. Then again if you turn that around it might sound a little authoritarian in insisting that Naruse must learn to ignore the beat of his own drum to march to that of the collective while presenting an idealised view of the police’s place in the community, but it does indeed seem that he has managed to find a better accommodation with himself no longer so angry or intimidating but understanding of others and their troubles while rededicating himself to a more compassionate policing. 


Offbeat Cops screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Images: ©2022 “Offbeat Cops” Film Partners

Under the Stars (星の子, Tatsushi Omori, 2020)

“The time of realisation comes and then that person changes” according to the words of a new religion guru. The sentiment is true enough, even if the meaning is slightly different from that which she’d intended. Young Chihiro, however, the heroine of Tatsushi Omori’s adaptation of the novel by Natsuko Imamura Under the Stars (星の子, Hoshi no Ko), is indeed approaching a moment of realisation as she begins to question everything about the world around her as it had been presented throughout the course of her life. 

As a baby, Chichiro (Mana Ashida) had suffered from severe eczema which had left her in terrible pain and her parents suffering with her in witnessing her distress. On the advice of a colleague, Chichiro’s father (Masatoshi Nagase) decides to try using “Venus Blessed Water” which is apparently full of cosmic energy that can cure all ills. Chihiro begins to recover and her parents become devotees of the cult which produces it eventually alienating her older sister, Ma (Aju Makita), who is unable to reconcile herself with the outlandish beliefs they advance and rituals they conduct. 

For Chihiro, however, the cult is all she’s ever known so it is in that way “normal” and it’s never really occurred to her to question it even after her sister’s mysterious “disappearance”. But as she approaches the end of middle-school, a few well placed questions from her classmates give her pause for thought wondering if her parents’ claims about the miracle water could possibly be true or if, as her best friend Watanabe (Ninon) wonders, they are simply being scammed. After all, if water could solve all the world’s problems it would either be ridiculously expensive or completely free and if you could stay healthy by placing a damp towel on your head then everyone would be doing it. Her parents claim they don’t get colds because the water boosts their immune system, but perhaps they’re just lucky enough to be the kind of people who don’t often get that kind of sick or the fact that they obviously spend almost all their time in the bubble of the cult reduces their exposure. 

Her crunch point comes when her handsome maths teacher (Masaki Okada) on whom she has a crush spots her parents doing the ritual in a park and exasperatedly points them out as complete nutcases. When she eventually tells him who they are, he inappropriately calls her out in front of the entire class by telling her to get rid of her “weird” water while subtly undermining her religious beliefs with advice about how to avoid getting colds or other potentially dangerous seasonal viruses. Omori presents the cult neutrally, hinting that the discrimination Chihiro is facing as a member of a “new religion” may be unfair while the beliefs of traditional religions may seem no stranger to the unfamiliar and to criticise them so directly would be deemed unacceptable in any liberal society. In a sense perhaps we all grow up in a kind of cult only latterly questioning the things our parents taught us to be true. Chihiro’s uncle Yuzo meanwhile had once tried to use science and experience to undermine her parents’ beliefs, he and Ma swapping out their holy water for the tap variety to prove to them that they are being duped only for them to double down and refuse to accept the “truth”. 

Uncle Yuzo and his family eventually offer Chihiro a place to stay in the hope of getting her out of the cult but are also of course asking her to betray her parents by leaving them. She remains preoccupied by the fate of her sister, particularly hearing rumours about the cult supposedly disappearing those who turn against them, but is torn between her growing doubts and love for her parents while privately suspicious about the fate of a child much like herself kept locked up by his mum and dad who say he’s terribly ill and unable to speak (which doesn’t exactly support the cult’s claims of universal healing), but who knows what might actually be true.

Shoko (Haru Kuroki), the wife of the guru Kairo (Kengo Kora), is fond of reminding the younger members that they are not there of their own free will which is of course true whatever the implications for fate and determinism because they are children whose parents have forced them to attend which might explain their sense of resentment or what she implies is “resistance” to their spiritual messaging in urging them to make an active choice to accept the cult’s teachings. Chihiro is coming to a realisation that she may be on a different path than her parents but delaying her exit while they too are possibly preparing her for more independent life. Lighter than much of Omori’s previous work despite its weighty themes, Under the Stars is also in its way about the end of childhood and the bittersweet compromises that accompany it. 


Under The Stars streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Images: (c) 2020 “Under the Stars” Production Committee